Episcopalians encouraged to support federal law protecting same-sex marriage

By Egan Millard
Posted Sep 20, 2022

Supporters of same-sex marriage rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court before the court hears arguments about gay marriage in 2015. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church is joining the effort to encourage the U.S. Senate to join the House in passing the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would protect the legality of same-sex marriage across the country. By sending a letter to Senate members last week along with other faith groups and encouraging Episcopalians to take action this week, the church aims to protect the marriages it has celebrated since 2015.

The Episcopal Public Policy Network sent an action alert on Sept. 20 urging Episcopalians to contact their senators ahead of the November vote explaining the spiritual importance of protecting same-sex marriage, citing several General Convention resolutions that articulate the church’s stance. Those specifically include a 2012 resolution urging the repeal of any federal laws discriminating against same-sex couples and a 2006 resolution affirming equal civil rights for gays and lesbians.

“The Episcopal Church believes that God is love, and God’s love extends to LGBTQ+ people,” Rushad Thomas, a policy adviser in the church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations, told Episcopal News Service. “With the Supreme Court demonstrating its willingness to roll back long-established rights, it is vital that Congress ensure marriage equality is protected from the prospect of a state-by-state free-for-all. The Episcopal Church will continue to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights at the federal level.”

Following the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion and the uncertainty around access to other rights its decision created, bipartisan supporters introduced the Respect for Marriage Act to protect marriage equality nationwide. When the court tossed out Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that the court should reconsider its decisions protecting same-sex marriage, access to contraception and private sexual activity between adults.

On Sept. 16, The Episcopal Church joined dozens of other religious groups in sending a letter to the Senate urging the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act “out of our shared religious obligations to care for our neighbors and to pursue justice.”

“Across religious traditions, we honor the common tenet that every person has inherent dignity and worth,” the letter reads. “And wherever we call home, we share the desire to care for our families with love and commitment. We urge the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, taking meaningful action to protect same-sex and interracial marriage.”

Specifically, the Respect for Marriage Act would prohibit any American jurisdiction from denying a marriage license to any couple based on sex, sexual orientation or race, enshrining protection for same-sex and interracial marriage into federal law. Both became legal nationwide because of Supreme Court decisions in 2015 and 1967, respectively, that struck down bans on such marriages.

However, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act – defining marriage as one man and one woman – remains on the books, though it has been unenforceable since being ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013. The Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal it, passed the House of Representatives in July and is now expected to come up for a Senate vote after the November midterm elections, where, despite bipartisan support, it faces an uncertain fate. All Democratic senators and a few Republican senators support it, but it is unclear whether there will be enough Republican support for it to pass.

Support for the Respect for Marriage Act has emerged from the parish level too. All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, issued a “faith in action” message to its parishioners explaining the situation and offering template letters to send to senators.

All Saints has a long history of advocating for marriage equality, going back to California Proposition 8 in 2008.

“Historically, All Saints Church has been one of the parishes in The Episcopal Church to take a stand and be in the forefront of what is happening,” Thomas Diaz, the parish’s director of connection and care, told ENS. “Marriage equality has been one of those focuses for us.”

Same-sex marriage was legalized in California nearly a decade ago and many have thought that work was long over, Diaz said, but “now we need to get more folks on the ground to promote the safeguard of the law.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.