January 24, 2000I applaud and am encouraged by the Vermont Supreme Court's ruling thatthe State of Vermont must "extend to same-sex couples the common benefits andprotections that flow from marriage under Vermont law."Since its 1976 General Convention, the Episcopal Church has consistentlyexpressed "its conviction that homosexual persons are entitled to equalprotection of the laws with all other citizens," and it has called uponour society "to see that such protection is provided in actuality." TheVermont Legislature has the opportunity to meet this call by permitting same-sexcouples to exercise the responsibilities, and enjoy the benefits andprotections, of civil marriage. Such action will serve to strengthen thesocial fabric and is not a threat to the integrity of traditionalmarriage.The interests of the state in licensing civil marriage and those of thechurch in the blessing of a marriage are quite different. The civilrights flowing from marriage primarily concern property, inheritance, and theresponsibilities and privileges of couples in matters of privacy,insurance, custody of children, and decision-making about one another's welfare.These are issues faced by both heterosexual and homosexual couples.The rites of the church offer God's blessing on, and the support of thefaith community for, relationships of faithful, loving commitment. Theunion of two human beings in mind, body and heart is one of God's greatestgifts. Heterosexual and homosexual people are equally capable of entering intolife-long unions of love, mutual support and fidelity.A diversity of opinion may be found among-and within-faith traditions andChristian denominations about homosexuality and whether same-sex couplesshould be permitted to marry. While many Episcopal clergy feel called toparticipate in the blessing of same-sex relationships, the EpiscopalChurch is not of one mind about extending the rites of the church to same-sexcouples. It is, however, committed to justice, inclusivity and continueddialogue.I believe sexual orientation is not a matter of what a person does in aparticular sphere of his or her life but a matter of who a person is.Homosexual persons choosing to live together in a life-long union are notcommitting a sin. God creates diversity in human beings. God also createswithin us the urge to seek mates with whom to share our lives. God'sgreat gift of love and the expression of that love cannot, and must not, bedenied for those among us who happen to be homosexual.The struggle for equal rights and benefits under the law has a long andhonorable history. This latest chapter holds promise that we are movingtoward full inclusion and acceptance of all our brothers and sisters. Ipray for us in Vermont and elsewhere to find the peace and understandingI believe God intends for all of us.