January 24, 2000 I applaud and am encouraged by the Vermont Supreme Court's ruling that the State of Vermont must "extend to same-sex couples the common benefits and protections that flow from marriage under Vermont law." Since its 1976 General Convention, the Episcopal Church has consistently expressed "its conviction that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens," and it has called upon our society "to see that such protection is provided in actuality." The Vermont Legislature has the opportunity to meet this call by permitting same-sex couples to exercise the responsibilities, and enjoy the benefits and protections, of civil marriage. Such action will serve to strengthen the social fabric and is not a threat to the integrity of traditional marriage. The interests of the state in licensing civil marriage and those of the church in the blessing of a marriage are quite different. The civil rights flowing from marriage primarily concern property, inheritance, and the responsibilities 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 the faith community for, relationships of faithful, loving commitment. The union of two human beings in mind, body and heart is one of God's greatest gifts. Heterosexual and homosexual people are equally capable of entering into
life-long unions of love, mutual support and fidelity. A diversity of opinion may be found among-and within-faith traditions and Christian denominations about homosexuality and whether same-sex couples should be permitted to marry. While many Episcopal clergy feel called to participate in the blessing of same-sex relationships, the Episcopal Church is not of one mind about extending the rites of the church to same-sex couples. It is, however, committed to justice, inclusivity and continued dialogue. I believe sexual orientation is not a matter of what a person does in a particular 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 not committing a sin. God creates diversity in human beings. God also creates within us the urge to seek mates with whom to share our lives. God's great gift of love and the expression of that love cannot, and must not, be denied for those among us who happen to be homosexual. The struggle for equal rights and benefits under the law has a long and honorable history. This latest chapter holds promise that we are moving toward full inclusion and acceptance of all our brothers and sisters. I pray for us in Vermont and elsewhere to find the peace and understanding I believe God intends for all of us.
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