Over the past three years I’ve listened with care to the concerns raised about the institution of marriage and the effect marriage equality might have on that institution. It sometimes seems as if the couples who might be married under the Maine marriage equality law are somehow alien, somehow essentially different than the folks who are currently married and somehow not currently present among us.
The truth is that same-sex couples and their families already live among us, and their children already go to our schools and participate in sports, bands and chorus — and all the rest. They’re not strangers at all but Mainers, like the rest of us, and contributing members of our communities. From the perspective of the Christian Church, they’re children of God, made in the image of God, baptized members of our congregations and saints and sinners — like the rest of us.
And none of that will change with the passage of Question 1. In fact, for the most part, we won’t notice any change. The only difference may be that same-sex couples and their families may breathe easier knowing that their relationships and their families can enjoy greater security and protection. And we may take comfort in knowing that they have joined us in the responsibility to uphold lifelong, monogamous commitment as one of the building blocks of a healthy society.
The failure of Question 1 would continue to impose second-class citizenship on same-sex couples and their families and deny them what we believe is best for them and for society. Domestic partnerships, which Maine law allows, are not — when measured by the way they are regarded in society or by the legal and financial benefits they bestow — the same as civil marriage. Indeed, hundreds of civil and financial benefits and protections that married, heterosexual couples enjoy under both Maine law and federal law are not offered to same-sex couples outside of civil marriage.
It is core to our Christian belief that we are all created in God’s image and, in baptism, we are all full members of the church. In many of our congregations, both here in Maine and around the country, faithful same-sex couples and their families are sharing in their local church’s life and ministry and in service to their communities. As full members of our churches and contributing citizens of Maine, these families are entitled to the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage the rest of us enjoy. I think many of us agree that stable, long-term, faithful relationships benefit the whole of society by providing social stability and a trustworthy environment for raising children. I believe that society will benefit if we include more of our community in marriage.
The Episcopal Church has a consistent record of standing for the equal treatment of all Americans under the law. This past summer our general convention voted to approve a service for the blessing of a same-sex covenant, which we will begin using in December. No priest or congregation can be required to use the service or penalized for refusing to use it. But it may be used by those clergy and congregations who choose to support faithful couples in same-sex relationships by offering God’s blessing.
Similarly, should Maine vote in favor of same-sex marriage, conscience would be protected, but the rights and responsibilities of marriage would be available to all those who seek it.
Jesus told his disciples to let go of their fear and to trust in God. We have no reason to fear our neighbors who happen to love persons of the same sex. We have every reason to encourage them to build strong loving families like those we cherish for ourselves. God will continue to care for us all.
And no matter what happens on Nov. 6, we will all be together on Wednesday at work and at school and on Sunday in church, trying to build our communities together. Fear not.
The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane is the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. Since 2008 he has served as chief pastor of the diocese, which consists of 65 congregations and other ministries across the state.