Standing for Marriage Equality: Holy Work in Holy Week

Elsie Liao (R) and Mayu Yu stand together in an alley outside the registry office where they asked to be married, before bein
Elsie Liao (R) and Mayu Yu stand together in an alley outside the registry office where they asked to be married, before being turned away, in Beijing on February 25, 2013. Although not in a relationship together, the pair sought to draw attention to China's stance on same-sex marriage which is not recognised by law, the lack of access to social benefits available to couples, and to promote public awareness of discrimination against the LGBT community. China's government has an un-verified but widely reported 'three no's' policy towards homosexuality; no approval, no disapproval, no promotion. Same-sex acts were decriminalised in China in 1997, and homosexuality was removed from the country's mental illness list in 2001. As of June 2012 a 14-year-old ban was lifted allowing lesbians, although not gay men, to give blood. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

I am a parish priest in a church with 4000 members. Between 7:30 a.m. on Palm Sunday and 1:00 p.m. on Easter Day we will have 27 services in what is not only the most holy but also the most scheduled week of the Christian calendar. And that was before the Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments on the two marriage equality cases -- Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor -- during Holy Week.

I'll admit my first reaction to the announcement that the arguments had been scheduled for March 26 & 27 was an incredulous "Seriously?" And yet as the clock has ticked down to Holy Week, it has become clear to me that the preparation happening for the work in the halls of justice is just as holy as the preparation happening in the halls of worship. I have come to see a profound synchronicity between a core value I hold as an American -- "liberty and justice for all" -- and a core value I hold as a Christian -- "love your neighbor as yourself." And I have been deeply gratified by the number of people of faith standing up and speaking out for equality -- not in spite of their faith but because of it.

At my church, All Saints Church in Pasadena, we are proud to have been in the forefront of the struggle for marriage equality in the State of California just as we have been in the forefront of LGBT equality in the Episcopal Church. From the first parish blessing of a same-sex couple in 1992 to the "No on 8" campaign in 2008 to the letters, petitions, rallies, phone calls and prayers vigils in the five years since we have been committed to the work of marriage equality. That commitment led to our decision to decline to solemnize any civil marriages until we could solemnize all civil marriages because, in the words of the resolution passed unanimously by our vestry (or board of directors:)

Our active participation in the discriminatory system of civil marriage is inconsistent with Jesus' call to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.

And so for us -- for me -- the work for equality is holy work. It is work deeply rooted in the ancient call of the prophets to do justice and in the example of Jesus to stand with and advocate for those on the margins: to make manifest the power of God's inclusive love.

Now make no mistake about it -- there continue to be people of deep faith across this country who come to a different conclusion than I do -- than my church does -- about what God blesses and what Jesus thinks about marriage. Happily for them the First Amendment protects their right to believe whatever they choose to about what God blesses or doesn't bless, intends or doesn't intend. Even more happily, it also protects the rest of us from anyone from confusing their theology with our democracy.

For example, the First Amendment guarantees that a Roman Catholic priest can believe that God doesn't bless marriage after divorce and an Orthodox rabbi can believe that God doesn't intend an interfaith marriage and no one can insist that they solemnize a marriage outside those beliefs. So it is with same-sex marriages. And so it will be when the Supreme Court does the right thing and ends discrimination against the civil marriage of same-sex couples -- and All Saints Church in Pasadena can get back to offering equal blessing and equal civil protection to all couples coming to us for holy matrimony.

As so this Holy Week we look ahead with a hopeful spirit -- not only to Easter but to the Supreme Court oral arguments on Hollingsworth v Perry and United States v Windsor. We await their decision coming in the weeks ahead deeply aware of the critically important role voices of faith have had in changing hearts and minds of so many in the powerful shift in public opinion on marriage equality. And we remain committed to stand, united for marriage, until justice does indeed roll down like waters -- and righteousness like an ever flowing stream!