Dear Engaged Couples—
Big news yesterday. The Supreme Court now concurs with what a lot of us believe, that same sex couples should be allowed the same rights as heterosexual couples. This is a milestone for the country. It means that Mary and Sally, if they are married, can file jointly on their federal tax forms, and it means that same sex married couples will get the same veterans, social security, and housing federal benefits already allowed heterosexual couples. The Supreme Court did not go so far as to strike down state laws that deny equal rights to same sex couples, however. In this regard there is still much to be done by gay rights activists. And it leaves much to be determined. One question that comes immediately to this writer’s mind is: What if Mary and Sally marry in one of the now twelve states that have legalized same sex marriage (and California will soon allow same sex marriage again, mark my words). Then, what if Mary and Sally move to a state that does not recognize their married status? Will the federal government still grant them the same federal benefits allowed heterosexual couples? You see how sticky it can become.
Sadly, Virginia still does not allow same sex unions. And also sadly, the Presbyterian Church(PCUSA) in which I was ordained, does not allow same sex unions. A motion to change church law that would allow same sex couples to marry was voted down last week at the PCUSA”s General Assembly by a rather narrow margin. At the present time, this latter truth is not really important to me. I cannot officiate at same sex unions anyway, because my state, again, Virginia, disallows it. I offer blessings to same sex couples. Blessings ARE allowed by the PCUSA; and I encourage these couples I bless to travel to DC where homosexual couples can legally obtain a marriage license.
But what if the state law changes? Will I really refuse to marry a couple because my church disallows it? The PCUSA has a motto. It is longstanding in our tradition. It goes like this, “God alone is Lord of the Conscience.” That means that our consciences, our own firmly held beliefs, may sometimes be at odds with church doctrine. In that case, we have every right, indeed the church encourages us, to go with our conscience. If I do that, the church, then, has every right to defrock me, excommunicate me, throw me into the darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth (not really, but maybe?).
To its credit the church has enacted laws lately that are to the benefit of gays and lesbians. Practicing homosexuals may hold church offices, and they may serve as pastors (actually we call pastors teaching elders now). Let us hope and pray that both the state of Virginia and the church have a change of heart and mind very soon. And let us hope for my sake that the church has a change of heart and mind before the state does.
Your wedding preacher for hire