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Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays - Moving Equality Forward
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Reverend Tom Harris’s Position Paper on Marriage

Treating All Members Equally
Rev. Tom Harris

Imagine a disease that causes great suffering to a great many people. It is a disease that affects men, women and children. It can cause a variety of emotional and physical symptoms.

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Most of the symptoms are not visible to the casual observer but nonetheless cause tremendous suffering to the afflicted. In rare cases the disease can be fatal.

Now imagine that this disease only afflicts families. It only afflicts family units. Single people are not troubled by the diseases, but for some reason couples and families are. Only when two people come together as a couple or begin raising children does this disease strike. It is a disease that causes suffering for every member of the family.  And not only does it cause great suffering for the individual members it often breaks apart and destroys the family itself.

Now imagine that scientists discover a cure for this disease. It is an injection that can be given to each member of the family to cure their disease, relieve their suffering and make them well.

Now imagine that the government decides that only white families can have this injection. Black families, Asian families, Hispanic families, Indian families and of course, mixed race families, cannot have it. Only whites can have it. Only white families can be made well. Other families must continue to suffer from the disease and its symptoms.

Now imagine that white people feel so blessed and fortunate to have this injection that relieves their suffering that they want to bring it to church and have their minister inject them with the medicine. They want do this for many reasons. Some believe that having the injection done by a minister will make it more effective and increase the potency of the injection or for some it just feels right to have the minister do it. Some want to publicly give thanks in church for the healing they will receive from the injection. Some want their injection blessed by God. There is no evidence that the injection by the minister increases the effectiveness. The injection is just as effective if it is administered by a doctor or a nurse, but white families really want their minister to do it. Of course, the minister can only give this wonderful injection to the white members of the church, because the government does not allow the Black church members, the Asian church members, the Hispanic church members or the Indian church members access to it. Even though the church has a wide variety of races amongst its membership, even though the non-white members of the church suffer from the disease just as much as the white members, the minister can only give the injection to the white members of the church. What should the minister do?

I’m sure you understand the comparison I’m making with this thinly veiled metaphor. Marriage is the injection that provides couples and families with powerful social, spiritual and legal protection. It makes them well. It makes couples and families whole. Without marriage couples and families face a variety of circumstances that cause great hardship and suffering. That’s why so many couples get married instead of just living together. Yet the government has declared that only certain couples and certain families can receive the healing, protective injection of marriage. Heterosexual couples and children can receive it. Homosexual couples and their children cannot receive it.

In addition, for a variety of reasons, heterosexual couples have decided that the minister of their church should be involved in administering the legal protection of marriage. A minister’s signature does not make the marriage more effective, more real, more legal or more successful. But, heterosexual couples want their minister to sign the license.
As I have come to realize that there is no difference between racial discrimination, gender discrimination and discrimination against gay and lesbian people, I have come to realize what exactly I am being asked to do in this situation. I am being asked to provide this important healing, protective, legal service for some members of the church while being legally prohibited from providing the same vital service to other members of the church. In so doing, I am being asked to participate in very real, very harmful, state-sponsored discrimination.

The fundamental reason, I wish to end my participation is moral. I do not want to provide this important material, legal service to some members when I am legally prohibited from providing it to all members. I do not want to discriminate against the gay and lesbian members of our church the way our government does.

Further, I do not believe that Govans Presbyterian Church should be involved in this kind of discrimination. We as a church are being asked to administer the life saving injection of marriage to a portion of our church family, while our government denies us the ability to offer the same service to other members of our church family. Even if this never changes on the government level, we as a church should not be willing to bring this discrimination into the walls of this building. The harm we do to heterosexual couples by removing ourselves from the civil

marriage process pales in comparison to the harm we do to our gay and lesbian members and our whole church family when we willingly participate in state-sponsored discrimination. By removing Govans Presbyterian Church from the civil marriage process we are choosing to end this kind of discrimination within the walls of this church and to follow a greater and higher law than the State offers.

So the primary concern I have about this issue is moral, but I do believe the moral and political are intertwined. So, if I start doing what is right for all the members of this church and the church does what is right for all its members, there is a greater chance that other churches will one day do what is right for all Christians and one day the government will start doing what is right for all people. For that reason, if I were to take this moral stance, I would encourage other pastors and other ministers and other churches to do the same, and I hope that one day enough people do what is right that the government would have to follow. But, if that day never comes, and if this stand is ignored or ridiculed it does not change the fact that it is the right thing for us to do. It is right to treat all members of our church family the same. Homosexual members and heterosexual members, homosexual couples and heterosexual couples, children of homosexual parents and children of heterosexual parents. Everybody deserves that same protection. Everybody deserves the same injection.

Now some may say that civil unions are equal to marriage. But, let’s go back to our metaphor, with marriage as an injection that protects couples and families from a variety of hardship and suffering. In that comparison, civil unions are the generic brand of the injection. So we have the government saying that most people can have the name brand injection of marriage, but one group is only allowed the generic version of civil unions. Even in a perfect system where there is no difference between the name brand and the generic, we have to ask the question, “Why can’t everybody have the same treatment?” And in such a system that does demand that the two groups get different treatments, can we ever be absolutely sure that they are really the same and will always be the same? The only way to assure we are treating people the same, is to treat them the same.

We can still provide for the spiritual needs of our members by celebrating, blessing and honoring the commitment made by any two people to live together and love each other for a lifetime. Whether this is called a wedding, a commitment ceremony or a holy union we as a church have the authority to provide this spiritual service to any two people. I hope we will always do so joyfully; after all we are in the business of encouraging people to love each other. But, we can do that without participating in the discriminatory dispensation of state benefits.

In conclusion, if you do not hear anything else from what I have said, I hope you hear this: my concerns are first and foremost moral concerns about our participation in civil marriage. They are moral concerns I have about providing my ministry equally to the members of this church. They are moral concerns about the way the church itself treats all its members. We should be treating all members of our church equally and not following the discriminatory dictates of our government. Having said that, we can and should try to make our government and world more just and more equitable, but we start by being more just and more equitable ourselves. That is what I want to do. That is what I want the church to do. I want us to be more equitable toward our members and thereby lead others to be more just toward all people.

Govans Presbyterian Chruch
5828 York Road
Baltimore, MD 21212
Phone: (410) 435-9188


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