'Fairness for All'
Today the Supreme Court of the United States of America has determined that marriage as a legal contract between two persons is available to all in our country. This means that two persons of the same gender can get married and have their marriage recognized by the government (including the IRS) in the same way that a man and a woman can have the legality of their marriage recognized by the government (including the IRS). This decision is about equal civil rights, it is not about a religious ceremony or about the religious teachings regarding the meaning of marriage.
Our United Methodist Church was the first denomination to advocate for equal civil rights for gay and lesbian persons when we added that statement into our Social Principles in 1972. At the same time, our UMC has affirmed that we believe Christian teaching states that marriage is understood as a covenant blessed by God between one man and one woman. While those two statements may seem contradictory, they are not. We believe in equal civil rights for all persons, while at the same defending our right to teach our Christian understanding of marriage.
So I view today’s Supreme Court decision as a victory for civil rights, but it is NOT a decision which changes the religious teachings of any church. In fact, the Court decision does NOT mandate any Christian minister to perform a marriage ceremony for any couple. I hope that state legislatures and courts can affirm that understanding – because “fairness for all” should be our theme in the U.S. and in our UMC.
“Fairness for all” means that everyone has the same civil rights, and it also means that religious groups have the right to maintain their own teachings and traditions. I hope that all well-meaning persons in the U.S. can unite around that concept of fairness. It is interesting that the state of Utah (with the full support of the Mormons) has already passed legislation to lift up the value of “fairness for all” – including gay, lesbian, and transgendered persons, among the categories of those whose civil rights are protected, but also including the protection of religious rights. I hope that our state of Indiana might consider similar legislation – affirming equal civil rights for all persons while also protecting the rights of religious persons to practice their faith without interference. The ill-fated attempts of our Indiana state legislature to affirm religious freedom was “fixed” in part, but I hope that our state will lead the way in affirming fairness for all, including adding gay and lesbian persons among those whose civil rights are protected, while also affirming our religious rights.
To our United Methodist clergy in the Indiana Conference, I must remind you that our Discipline prohibits UM clergy from performing weddings for same-gender couples and it also prohibits such weddings from being held in our churches. I do not know whether the 2016 General Conference will revise those prohibitions, but our current Discipline is clear on this issue and I am clear that it is my duty as a Bishop to uphold that Discipline.
So I pray that “fairness for all” will prevail in our country, and I affirm that equal civil rights (including religious freedom) for all persons is the rule of law in our nation.
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