By Jeff Walton
May 8, 2012
Episcopal Bishop Michael B. Curry has sided with opponents of North Carolina’s bill to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. (Photo credit: Voteagainst.org) North Carolina voters head to the polls today in order to weigh a proposed amendment to the state constitution defining marriage between one man and one woman as the only recognized domestic legal union. The state’s Episcopal Church leaders have been visible opponents to the measure, as were California’s Episcopal Church bishops during the Proposition 8 campaign that ended a brief window of same-sex marriages in that state.
North Carolina already has a statute banning same-sex marriage. A vote in favor of the amendment on May 8 would codify the law into the state’s constitution, making it less likely to be overturned by legislative action or the courts. The amendment was referred to the statewide ballot by the North Carolina House, which voted 75-42 in favor and the State Senate that followed with 30-16 approval in September.
In January, the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina‘s annual convention approved a resolution opposing the measure, citing “the Episcopal Church’s historical support of gay and lesbian persons as children of God and entitled to full civil rights.” The resolution passed on a voice vote.
The diocesan resolution pointed to language from the church’s 2006 General Convention in Columbus, Ohio that opposed “any state or federal constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex civil marriage or civil unions.”
In late April, all three Episcopal Church bishops in North Carolina signed a joint letter opposing the constitutional measure.
“Jesus has taught us that the greatest and most important of all the commandments of God are to love God and to love our neighbor,” the letter reads. Quoting Matthew Chapter 22 verses 37-40, the letter continues, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
The bishops’ letter also cited the baptismal covenant to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being,” arguing that the amendment is “unjust and it does not respect the dignity of every human being in the State of North Carolina.”
Scripture that specifically mentions and prohibits homosexual practices is unaddressed in the letter.
Curry recently appeared as part of a photo campaign opposed to the measure alongside his Canon for Regional Ministry, Cathie Caimano, Canon for the Ordinary Michael Hunn, and Rector Anne Hodges-Copple of St. Luke’s, Durham.
The Episcopal bishops’ letter places them in opposition to officials from the state’s two Roman Catholic dioceses, as well as prominent pastors from historically black churches who have vocally supported the measure. The Roman Catholic bishops of Charlotte and Raleigh have issued a mailer calling for support of traditional marriage.
In states where same-sex marriage has appeared either on the ballot or in legislatures, Episcopal Church bishops have typically supported, alongside Unitarian Universalist and liberal Protestant officials, the legalizing such unions. A rare exception was Rhode Island bishop Geralyn Wolf, who argued in 2011 against efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in that state.
“As Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, I firmly support the traditional definition of marriage as the union between one male and one female,” Bishop Wolf said in a statement. “I believe that Holy Matrimony is a sacred religious rite, whose definition should not be re-interpreted by legislation or civil courts.”
Other bishops in the worldwide Anglican Communion have spoken against same-sex marriage, among them Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York John Sentamu. The two have been embroiled in a dispute with same-sex marriage advocates in the United Kingdom who want to mandate church involvement in such unions there.
Professor Amy Laura Hall of United Methodist Duke Divinity School was critical of the proposed amendment. In a radio interview, Hall noted that marriage was one of the first civil rights claimed by free slaves, so some African Americans see any attempt to weaken the biblical mandate for marriage as weakening a civil right that was hard won in the south.
“But I also believe this amendment is an attempt to use this history to divide people who should unite on economic policies that shape the lives and families in our region,” Hall pronounced, claiming that the amendment was “a distraction” and that a discussion of fair labor practices was more crucial. “I think you can be a very traditional Christian in this state and vote against this amendment on May 8th.”
Hall charged that the amendment was redundant with opposite-sex marriage already in state law.
“Why now are we going through this conversation in a public realm?” Hall posited, warning that voters “…not let ourselves be divided by fear during a time of economic scarcity,” and not “scapegoat those who we might fear who seem different than us.”
North Carolina voters recently heard from famed evangelist Billy Graham, who is quoted in an advertisement appearing in 14 state newspapers calling for support of the amendment.
“At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage,” Graham wrote. “The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote for the marriage amendment on Tuesday, May 8. God bless you as you vote.”
The Amendment being opposed by the Diocese of North Carolina, is one which would enshrine in law the exclusion of Same-Sex couples from the contract of Marriage. The stand of the Diocese is one which most dioceses of TEC would consider to be a matter of social justice for the LGBT community.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand