Friday, February 26, 2010

Are gay couples worthy?

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.


Take another look at that. GLBT people have to prove their worthiness by
  • ensuring they aren't related (you know, incest?),
  • proving they aren't married to anyone else,
  • passing health exams (looking for what, pray tell?),
  • financial disclosure (you have to be rich to be gay?);
  • absence of coercion (because, of course, you may be forcing your cousin into a union, since no one would willingly join you),
  • signing a form saying you want to make it lifelong, since of course if you want a church blessing etc clearly you might be doing it for a lark
  • and just in case, anything else that they choose.

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.

But those faithful, partnered GLBT Episcopalian couples in Virginia must crawl, hat in hand, before the Bishop, stripped naked and exposed, poked and prodded by the diocese, audited and inspected, to get enough boxes ticked off, for the remote and grudging recognition that they just might, possibly, maybe, be good enough for a blessing.

It is hard to imagine how much larger the letters could be written because what this diocesan resolution really says is **** OFF, YOU AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH, AND WE WISH YOU WOULD GO AWAY.

Yup, got that message nicely, thanks.

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.

Clearly some of that sickness has percolated into the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Eventually, saner heads will prevail.

Meanwhile, they should be ashamed of themselves for this disgusting, insulting resolution.

20 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Yes. Insulting, disgusting, indeed. Those in the diocese who voted for these resolutions should be ashamed.

IT, I burst out laughing at the mention of "degree of kinship". I suppose the reference is to hillbilly gays, to push the insulting tone of the resolution a bit further.

I know that the whole mess is tragic and not one bit funny, but you laugh, or you cry. You keep your sanity however you can.

it's margaret said...

Yeppa.
It feels like a lifetime --but it has not yet even been a week....

JCF said...

Prayers for Margaret . . . and all those fighting for Justice&LOVE in Virginia.

Caminante said...

'The appropriateness of advance medical screening, if any'

During the debate in Vermont over civil unions in 2000, a republican tried to throw this in as a requirement in an amendment-- you know, get all those promiscuous gays -- but the amendment was roundly defeated.

wv: diapier -- really!

Tom Downs said...

With the exception of (p), (q) and (r)these are the sorts of things basically required of all people choosing to be married in the Episcopal Church. re: medical exams--this was a law in my state (since dropped, but likely still in effect in some states...perhaps Virginia) or likely to be part of pre-marital counseling-- i.e., money and marriage.
This is not to suggest that all the good folks in the Diocese of Virginia are by this resolution just trying to contibute positively to the movement toward marriage equality.

it's margaret said...

Tom --none of these things, except prior marriage, are of concern or noted for hetero relationships for the church. Don't confuse civil requirements with church requirements. --which is what these folks have done.

I wrote a whole bunch more, and then erased it.... believe me, this junk is total out and out fear, hatred and discrimination. We were fed another bit of bait and switch...

just sayin'.

textjunkie said...

hang on, hang on, hang on.
I know that on the face of it it seems bizarre, but heterosexual couples have to go through that as well.

When my hubby and I got married in the State of California we had to do all that--document our age of consent (and that we were neither of us mentally incapacitated), that we weren't cousins, get a doctor's official test that we didn't have diseases (I forget which ones, TB and herpes? I was really insulted at the time, let me tell you), that we weren't married to anyone else already, agree that we were doing it of our own free will, etc.

So it's a little weird, but basically the Dio of VA may be saying "make sure that you aren't circumventing any laws that apply to hetero marriages; add in the extra financial protections that marriages get for free but other partnerships don't; and then consider how the service should go."

Now, why they didn't SAY that explicitly I don't know. But remembering all the bizarre hoops (as it were) I had to jump through to get married, it doesn't come across quite as patronizing as it might sound at first blush.

Tom Downs said...

Margaret,
I'm afraid I disagree. While my memory is not as good as it used to be, I have been preforming wedding ceremonies in the Episcopal Church for nearly 40 years.

"c) The age, capacity and degree of kinship, if any, of the parties;"
Indeed the state sets the laws in this regard. However, at least as regards hetero marriage, the Church has a point of view consistent with the state's. Clergy, representing the Church and the state, enforce these rules at the time of the wedding.

"(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;"
At least in my diocese (Eastern Michigan), the bishop will not allow a second marriage unless these kinds of questions are addressed.

"(e) The appropriateness of advance medical screening, if any;"
... See my note above.

"(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;"
Certainly this is the sort of stuff pre-marriage pastoral counseling in most cases I've known. It is especially true with late marriages and pre-nups.

"(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;"
There are requirements for one party to be baptized. The other items concern the traditional questions regarding the ability to marry. Violating these was grounds for annulment(when we were still doing that).

"(l) Any requirement for written affirmation by the couple that the commitment is to a life-long union;"
Sounds like the Declaration of intention required by canon.

"(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;"
Don't know what they are thinking about, but perhaps this would serve those hetero couples that do not marry in order to prevent loss of Social Security income.

I have no idea why Virginia wants to work out all this stuff now (what there real motives are--you could be right about the fear, hatred and discrimination), but it also sounds like what a bishop would do who intended to regularize (or expects it will be in the near future) marriage equality, or at least same sex blessing in his or her diocese and needed to put together a policy sheet for the clergy.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tom, the diocese will be doing blessings, not marriages. Will the blessing ceremonies carry any weight at all with the civil authorities? I don't get it. The diocese should follow the same rules for blessings for opposite-sex couples, who are presumably already in a civil marriage. How does the state enter into a blessing ceremony for a couple who cannot get married under the law?

Tom Downs said...

Grandmere Mimi,
It does sound as if the Diocese of Virginia plans on treating couples seeking a blessing in the Church the same as those seeking a state sanctioned marriage in the Church. Is that a bad thing? If the state does not recognize the sacrament, does that make it less of a sacrament. If the Church asks both couples to comply with the same set of policies, is that a bad thing? The policies as enforce for hetero couples now are not intended to exclude, but to promote healthy live-long loving relationships. Is that a bad thing? Could all this equating of the two --blessing and marriage-- result in a shift to acceptance in the Diocese of Virgina of same sex relationships? It seems to me that would be good.
But if forming a committee to establish policies for same-sex blessings is just a stall (one of many to come) then it is a bad bad bad thing.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tom, my point is to keep the rules simple. As Caminante up there said in the comments to my blog post on the resolutions:

To wit: the more complicated the resolution, the less clear the way forward.

Skip the content, this resolution should have been tossed simply for its wordiness.


Yes. Exactly.

Caminante said...

The state of Vermont does not require a blood test for heterosexual couples. That is why the suggestion of such during the civil union debate was so annoying.

IT said...

We did not need any medical exams or results to qualify for a marriage license in CA in 2008. We simply had to affirm our identity and our marital status.

I doubt that the DIoVA is required to assess any of these things explicitly to bless a straight couple.

The point is that the church should not require anything from any GLBT couple that it doesn't require explicitly from any straight couple. To say anything beyond the fact that the GLBT are to be treated officially the same as the straights is insulting. Sure, expect the GLBT to go through the same pre-marital counseling. No problem. but to specify what that should entail for one set and not the other is deeply insulting.

Marshall Scott said...

IT, Mimi, I have to agree with textjunkie and Tom in this. I have had to address all these issues in one way or another with every couple I've married in 30 years (yeah, as a chaplain that hasn't been as often as parish clergy; but that's only called me to be more careful.

Now, I imagine that Virginia is likely "a state of hate." But, let's separate the Church within Virginia from the state as a whole, or even the northern counties that make up the diocese. Many of these issues are set by the state, but the church does well to consider them, especially if it wants to argue that these ought to be recognized, because they have met the same standards. Remember, too, that therefore we are looking at the specifics of Virginia. It may well have laws about consanguinity; Missouri, where I live, certainly does. It may well still require a blood test. When I married more than 20 years ago my wife and I had to be tested for AIDS - every coupled married that year in Illinois had to. You better believe I was concerned about the economic security of the couple and if one party was divorced how that marriage had ended, and had parties acted justly (as explicitly required in canon). And while it's unjust and regrettable that GLBT couples in non-marriage states have to work harder to accomplish legal and economic protections that already come with state-recognized marriage, it's only good pastoral care to ask what a couple has done to provide those protections for themselves and one another.

It might seem simple for straight couples, but that's because the laws have already been passed. The Diocese of Virginia is committed to giving recognition and maintaining expectations for couples that the State of Virginia isn't yet ready to recognize. That simply isn't a simple process. It involves the "sausage making" that all legislation involves; and no, it isn't pretty. But, that doesn't mean that the Diocese isn't trying to be ahead of, and be a witness to, the state.

I pray for the overturning of Prop H8, and for the elimination of federal and state "defense of how-things-have-always-been acts." But until those abominations have been set right, the Church still has to live with them. In the meantime, the Church has to create, if not quite from whole cloth, the structures that demonstrate that GLBT couples are as equal in the eyes of the Church as they are in the eyes of God, in the face of state structures that won't. I don't know that this could be in some sense "enough," nor that the results will be what I would pray for; but I think they really are efforts made in good faith.

That we think these things aren't

it's margaret said...

The irony Tom, is that this Diocese will not view the blessing of same-sex couples as equivalent to marriage. I have already been told that an OT 'Blessed be God" non-Trinitarian blessing is all that is allowed of same-sex couples in my congregation.

Health screening before marriage is not required in Virginia. Let's not even get in to age and cousins in the good ol' south.

There is not one word regarding marriage in the Diocesan Canons, and this piece of crap insists that these rules are to be written in to the Canon... for same-sex couples only. There are guidelines for marriage in the clergy handbook. Yes. But, if this were a move toward marriage equality, all that needed to be said was that all rules apply to all couples.

There are six same-sex couples in the congregation I serve that are legally married --and I cannot even begin to offer them a Christian recognition in the congregation in which they worship. This resolution will further delay any such celebration. By years and years. Because the "next" resolution will be about the national church canons....

I understand you are trying to see the hope and the equality in this. But there is none. This was bait and switch for delay and degradation. That's all.

And it's not fooling me.

Oh --and if I thought that one member of a couple were particularly vulnerable, or the relationship were inappropriate for any number of reasons, I don't believe for a moment that six weeks of counseling would change that. I would refuse to solemnize the relationship. I have done that. To both straight and gay couples.

Please let's not confuse legal marriage, which is not even an option here, with the blessing of a civil marriage from another State, or the blessing of a union.

And somehow --somehow, I feel as though you all are talking down to us --wait, wait --don't you see, this is just the same, you say... --as if we don't GET it.

Believe me. I GET IT.

Simply stated --we don't need a SEPARATE DETAILED rule for same-sex couples. And we have created one. That is blatant discrimination. Let me say it again --That is blatant discrimination.

Can you tell I'm pissed?

Grandmère Mimi said...

Brava, Margaret!

Marshall, I have nothing to add to what Margaret said. The resolutions are discrimination, plain and simple.

IT said...

Same rules. That's all. Don't make up new stuff and then pretend you are doing it for our own good.

HOw insulting to have all this about co-sanguinity and blood tests against couples who may be legally married in their home jurisdiction.

Sure, they want to sell this that they are taking care of us. They aren't.

It's like this video.

IT said...

What should they say?

They should say that GLBT couples seeking blessings will be expected to conform to all the same rles as straight couples seeking the same recognition.

That would do it.

Tom Downs said...

Margaret,
You obviously know the territory and I don't.
You are right that I typically hope to see the best in people and in the Church, so I hope you are wrong, but suspect you are right. It's the wise as serpents and innocent as doves thing that gets me every time. Knowing when to be which is tricky.
Don't give up. Don't get even. Just love.

dr.primrose said...

"I have already been told that an OT 'Blessed be God" non-Trinitarian blessing is all that is allowed of same-sex couples in my congregation."

So much for the claim that the "liberals" have abandoned the Christian faith.

I find that utterly appalling. Heterosexuals will be blessed as Christians. Blessing gay Christians as Christians is forbidden. It just takes by breath away.