Presbyterians from across the country will be arriving for our General Assembly in San Jose amid a sea of deep rejoicing as same gender couples affirm their love and commitment in marriage ceremonies that are legal in the state.
Sadly, these celebrations will, according to the most recent decision of our own court, still be unrecognized in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Beginning in 1978, our church has regularly supported civil equality and protections against discrimination for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) people, but has not extended full equality to its own members. At this year’s Assembly we will have the opportunity to turn this around and make a commitment to fairness and equality by removing discriminatory language from our own constitution.
As a Christian and lesbian, the recognition by my church of a covenantal and sacred relationship is as important as all the hundreds of legal rights and responsibilities gained by marriage equality in the civil society. More and more same gender couples are calling for both equal rights and equal rites. Again and again our clergy are being put in the untenable position of being permitted by the state but constrained by their church from blessing the marriage of same gender couples in their own congregations seeking a church wedding.
The Permanent Judicial Commission of the PC(USA) recently made the final decision on the trial of Jane Spahr for marrying same gender couples. In short they avoided punishing Janie by declaring that no marriages had taken place since the constitution of the Presbyterian Church does not allow marriages of same gender couples. The language of such a decision is an assault on the dignity of same gender loving people and on the integrity of our church.
I am reminded of the line in the marriage ceremony, “What God has joined together, let no one tear asunder.” In her inimitable style, Janie usually renders the line as, “What God has joined together, let nobody mess with!”
Our marriages are blessed by and joined together by God — we know so by the joy that is ours in the unity of love. We know we are blessed by God when we support each other through sickness and in health. We know we are blessed by God through prayerful reading of Scripture and the assent of the congregations we belong to. We know we are blessed by God when we worship as a family in the midst of the community of faith. We know we are blessed because God has joined us together. This is a truth that transcends sexual orientation and gender identity.
In these recent decisions, it is important to distinguish between what is familiar and what is fair. Same gender marriage may be unfamiliar but the love in these marriages is no less love than love between a man and a woman. God sees it. God blesses it. Now the church is being asked to be a witness.
After all, love is love.
LISA LARGES is the minister director of the organization That All May Freely Serve in San Francisco, Calif.