Respect for Marriage: An Open Letter to Jeb Bush

Dear Governor Bush,

On this historic day as marriage equality comes to the State of Florida, I was saddened that your statement [quoted below] reiterates the false dichotomy that providing equal protection for same-sex couples and protecting religious liberty are two "sides of the gay lesbian marriage issue."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law. I hope that we can also show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue -- including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.

With all due respect, this statement categorically fails to show respect for the "good people" who are this very day promising to love, honor and cherish the love of their life until death do they part by dismissing their marriages as an "issue."

For the record, gay and lesbian Americans don't pay gay taxes, we don't pledge gay allegiance to the flag, we don't fold gay laundry or take out gay trash to the curb and we don't have "gay marriages." Marriage is marriage - the civil contract that provides married couples with over 1000 rights and responsibilities. And -- as of today: January 6, 2015 -- marriage discrimination against gay and lesbian couples has ended in the state of Florida.

Further, with all due respect, I challenge your assertion that there is a dichotomy between believing marriage is a sacrament and wanting to safeguard religious liberty and the fact that couples making lifelong commitments to each other are now receiving the legal protections of marriage. As an Episcopal priest I believe marriage is a sacrament - and as an American citizen I believe safeguarding religious liberty is a fundamental value of our great nation.

Because here's the deal: The First Amendment protects your right to believe absolutely anything you choose to about what God blesses or doesn't bless; intends or doesn't intend; is present or is absent in ... up to and including whether there is a God at all. What it does NOT protect is your right to confuse what you believe with what the Constitution protects. And again and again and again the highest courts in the land have agreed that the equal protection guaranteed all Americans is not equal protection unless it equally protects all Americans equally.

Our religious liberty is adequately safeguarded by that First Amendment. No Roman Catholic priest can be compelled to marry a divorced couple against his faith. No Orthodox rabbi can be required to marry an interfaith couple against his tradition. And no clergy person is going to be forced to marry a gay or lesbian couple contrary to their beliefs. Meanwhile, the religious liberty of those of us who do believe the values of marriage transcend the gender of the couple now have the liberty to offer both equal blessing and equal protection to all the couples who stand before us, promising to love, honor and cherish the love of their life until death do they part.

So yes: let's all agree regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law. And yes: let's respect the dignity of good people of deep faith who come to various conclusions about what their faith tells them about marriage.

But please - with all due respect - let's stop perpetuating the lie that marriage equality is a threat to religious liberty. Because nothing could be further from the truth. And that, you will recall, is covered in the Ninth Commandment.

The Reverend Canon Susan Russell
All Saints Church, Pasadena CA