Bishop Ely testifies in support of same-sex marriage bill

Bishop Tom Ely of Vermont testified (via video tape) before the Senate of the State of Vermont in support of a bill now before the General Assembly called “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom and Promote Equality in Civil Marriage.”

Here is an excerpt from his testimony, taken from the Diocese of Vermont web-site:

Vermont has lived with a certain measure of equality for gay and lesbian couples since the enactment of our current Civil Union legislation. This legislation seeks to provide an even greater measure of equality and dignity. As you well know, because of federal statues this law cannot provide a full measure of equality, but it is a step in the right direction and sends an important message to our elected leaders in Washington. I applaud those who have introduced this legislation and encourage all legislators and our governor to support it.

Marriage equality means different things to different people, but among the things it means to me is that the values I hold dear in my own marriage and in the marriages of other men and women of faith can be celebrated by all. Those values include the mutual love and support of another person in a committed life-long relationship, in which fidelity, joy, help and comfort in all circumstances can be respected and practiced, and through which the stability of family can be provided for those who choose to care and nurture children. I do not believe that this legislation will diminish, or compromise, the integrity of marriage (certainly not my marriage). Rather, I believe it has the possibility to strengthen our understanding and appreciation of marriage as we witness the love and fidelity of gay and lesbian couples alongside that of straight couples.

Ely acknowledged that this bill would not settle theological debate within religious communities, and does not believe that it is the role of a state legislature to enter into those debates.

At the same time, he told the legislature not to wait for consensus among religious communities before moving forward because this “is not likely to happen for a very long time. In this case,” he continued, ‘justice delayed is justice denied.”

The Bishop told the legislators that The Episcopal Church along with other Christian churches and religious faiths “all have their work to do, and each will need to live with integrity with this new law, just as we have learned to live with the conviction of our various beliefs in response to Civil Union legislation.”

He told the hearing that the the Canons of the Episcopal Church and the Book of Common Prayer “are clear in the use of marriage as between one man and one woman.” He promised that Episcopalians in Vermont “will continue to provide the very best pastoral care we can to all couples who seek God’s blessing on their faithful, committed, monogamous relationships.”

In a letter to the members of his diocese, Ely discussed his role as Bishop-in-the-public-square:

On Tuesday March 18, 2009, I gave testimony before the Judiciary Committee of the Vermont Senate on the subject of religious freedom and marriage equity. Because I was attending a meeting of the House of Bishops in North Carolina that day, my testimony was delivered via a pre-recorded video message. Since this is a subject of considerable media coverage, I thought it would be good to share the written text of my testimony with you by way of my column in this edition of the Mountain Echo.

As I say in my testimony, I know that not every Episcopalian in Vermont agrees with me on the subject of marriage equity for gay and lesbian couples. I respect those differences and welcome further conversation about this matter. At the same time, there are important implications for the exercise of our pastoral ministry with gay and lesbian couples should this legislation pass and be signed into law, and I thought it was important to express my support for this initiative. In the months ahead I intend to have conversations with the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council and members of the clergy about those implications. For now, it is one step at a time, and I invite you to receive my testimony with an open heart and mind.

Read Bishop Ely’s testimony and his letter to the Diocese here.

Here is a press account of the Tuesday hearings.

Here is the complete text of the bill before the Vermont General Assembly.

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