Friday, February 26, 2010

Are Gay Couples Worthy? Prove it.

The argument has been made that GLBT couples should be patient, and should be grateful for the 2nd class status of civil unions, in order to prove that we are worthy of marriage.

Once they see that we can do "marriage lite", the argument goes, then they may---may.... allow us to have access to marriage. Eventually. But we have to earn it.

(This ignores the fact that most vocal marriage equality opponents are just as resistant to civil unions. But I digress).

Now, that's pretty insulting,and of course it's another tactic to stress our "otherness" as though simply because of gender, we don't want/can't achieve "real" marriage. And those of us who are married, of course, prove the opposite entirely.

But what the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has done is more insulting yet. In response to movements in the national church, and recognition of (gasp!) gay people in their midst, they admit they need to study the issue of same sex blessings (NOT marriage) in their diocese. To do so, they propose bringing together clergy and lay people and lawyers, which is all fine (although one might ask whether civil lawyers are really necessary for an internal church issue as "blessings" which have no civil component....but I digress again.)

Fine so far. However, their resolution also calls to consider whether blessing such unions requires them to consider the following issues:

(c) The age, capacity and degree of kinship, if any, of the parties;

(d) The effect of prior marriages or unions blessed by a licensed clergy person or registered with civil authorities, the responsibility to any former spouse or partner in such union, and responsibility to minor children of any prior marriage or union;

(e) The appropriateness of advance medical screening, if any;
(h) Review of financial arrangements to protect the parties in the absence of state law presumptions governing married couples, presumptions intended to protect the weaker party from potential exploitation, oppression, or improvident action by the other party in the relationship;

(i) Other factors listed in the General Convention canons for marriage, Canons I.1.18 and I.1.19, including the baptismal status of the parties, the commitment to life-long union, the voluntariness of consent, the absence of coercion, fraud, mistake of identity of the other party;
(l) Any requirement for written affirmation by the couple that the commitment is to a life-long union;
(p) Whether any blessing service for same-gender union may be used in lieu of marriage for heterosexual couples under any circumstances, and if so, what those circumstances are;
(q) How these might apply to all members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans-gendered community;
(r) Any other factor deemed important by the panel.
These resolutions by their very existence suggest that the Dio. VA thinks that GLBT people don't want lifelong unions, would try to join family, are riven with diseases, are coercing their partner for financial reasons. Of course none of these rules apply to straight couples seeking blessings. Because their health, finances, proof of lifelong fidelity, are all tacitly accepted along with the presumption they will engage in proper missionary position man-woman sexual intercourse.

Fortunately for the Episcopal Church, many, many other dioceses are moving ahead and recognizing that Gays Are People Too, who simply want the same rules and expectations applied to them as to straight couples. Many Episcopal bishops have been outspoken advocates for civil marriage rights in different states. Many Episcopal priests are tireless advocates for equality. Many Episcopal parishes, even in Virginia, or perhaps despite it (yes, we're looking at you Margaret!) are working for justice for all people. Many average Episcopalians are advocates for fairness for all.

So horrible as this is, it's a flare from a dying institutional world view that in 20 years will be viewed with the same horror as poll taxes and anti-miscegenation laws. It may be useful to remember that Virginia is politically a State of Hate that has banned recognition of even private contracts that give any semblance of marriage rights. That means, all those legal documents my wife and I have for health care etc. could be ignored in Virginia since their purpose is to give us some marriage-like protections. We don't exist there. We are less than nothing.

Eventually, saner heads will prevail. Meanwhile, they should be ashamed of themselves for this disgusting, insulting resolution.

For those not familiar with the structure of the Episcopal Church, it is very different from the authoritarian Roman Catholics. Episcopalians are ruled by "democratic polity": Bishops are elected by their dioceses, not appointed from old-men on-high, and then must be approved by other bishops and dioceses. Church-wide policy is set by democratic process in a convention every three years, with one house of Bishops and one house of elected lay- and clergy-people. Similarly, diocesan policy is set in part by a diocesan convention. The Episcopal Church is a free standing church in a loose federation with other Anglican churches affiliated with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is Not A Pope and bears no direct authority over the independent national churches. Individual bishops have considerable autonomy in the responses of their dioceses, and a few have left over The Gay Issue. The mind of the church overall is clearly moving towards full inclusion. If any bona fide Episcopalians are reading this, please correct me if I am wrong!


NancyP said...

Many of the issues listed in the full resolution are considered in heterosexual marriage as well. It would seem obvious to use the heterosexual marriage canon list as the starting point, and identify any issues that are unique to same sex couples due to the absence of official recognition and uniform definition of relationship status. The sensible approach would be to address the unique issues as pastoral issues in "pre-Cana" counseling, and realize that at this point, some issues just have to be dealt with on an ad hoc basis.

Not all couples that registered for local domestic partnership consider themselves to have entered into a lifelong commitment; the definition of domestic partnership differs widely, some requiring merely co-residence and sharing of daily expenses for one year, without other legal or financial commitments, and some requiring joint checking, property held in common, reciprocal health care and durable power of attorney documents, or reciprocal survivorship inheritance status.

It is appropriate to counsel the prospective holy union persons to consider if there are any residual responsibilities from other same sex relationships that need to be dealt with. The priest doesn't have an automatic measurement for "committed same sex relationship". For heterosexuals, the short answer is the word "marriage". "Have you been married before? If so, are you divorced now? Why? Are there children, and if so, what are the custody arrangements and the financial responsibilities? Have you discussed your preexisting responsibilities with your prospective spouse?"...and so on.

It would be a good idea to present and require attendance at a class on legal instruments that enable the holy unioned couple to fulfill their responsibilities in lieu of state recognition of their relationship. I have in mind health care-related power of attorney as an issue for every couple. This might sound old hat to long-term couples seeking solemnization, but I can guarantee that there will be some couples that will arrive without a clue.

Erika Baker said...

I agree that all is insulting if it applies only to gay people. And who would be the judge?

I'm baffled by the medical screening. Will there be a list of medical conditions that will preclude blessings? On what grounds? What ARE they thinking of?

IT said...

Nancy P, that is exactly the problem with a "marriage lite" solution.

Look what happened in France.

Erika, you are fortunate to live in a civilized country. The US is not.

Erika Baker said...

So would they really have a list of medical conditions that precluded a blessing? Is that what medical screening means? That someone would decide which medical conditions are clearly your own fault and probably due to sexual misbehaviour that just proves you're not worthy?

IT said...

In the case of Dio. VA, I have no idea what they mean---that's part of the problem, as you note! And part of the offense. I suspect it's the "icky gays = VD or HIV" subtext, but who knows what they really mean????

Historically, many states in the US once required blood tests for a marriage license to be sure those planning to marry did not have syphilis. So, the casual way to say you were engaged, would be "yeah, we're going for a blood test." For most states, that requirement is long gone, though I believe a few states still require blood tests.

But I don't think there is any record of a CHURCH requiring a blood test.

The apologists for this say that in the absence of a marriage license (because GLBT can't marry legally in VA) the church has to step in, in place of the state. I don't buy it.

It's just a frank, and rank, insult.