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Local Clergy on Gay Marriage: Fine By Me

New Jersey Assembly approves gay marriage bill, pushes through to governor's desk.

This column originally appeared on July 27, 2011 in Long Valley Patch, but we're revisiting it because of today's vote on same-sex marriage.

On one side of the gay marriage issue, there is the majority of Americans who believe that the term marriage should only be used to describe a legally committed relationship between a man and a woman and not two people of the same gender. Those who take this stance, often reference the Judeo-Christian Bible as the authority on the matter.

On the other side of the debate are those that believe the ability to marry, regardless of sexual orientation, is central to our liberty.

In the U.S. we have the ideal of ‘Separation of Church and State.’

In the First Amendment to our constitution, it is stated, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

While we are not allowed to teach religion in public schools, except on a very limited basis as part of social studies curriculum, we have currency that proclaims “In God We Trust.”

If we define legal marriage by religious or spiritual concepts, could that be defying the concept of ‘separation of church and state’?

There are many complex questions surrounding an issue that should, in many ways, simply be based upon the presence of love. 

We reached out to many local clergy and other members of the community to get their thoughts on this very emotional and heated nationwide debate in light of the recent adoption of the Marriage Equality Law in New York State, but only one clergy member responded. 

According to Rev. Margaret Otterburn, Rector of Church of the Messiah in Chester, she would perform a marriage ceremony for a gay couple as long as they were willing to do the same preparation which she requires of all couples and as long as same sex marriage was considered legal in the state.

“I have officiated at Civil Unions of gay couples,” said Otterburn.

She said, prior to the final decision by lawmakers in New York, Bishop Prince Singh of Rochester and the Task Force on Marriage Equality stated on July 21, 2011:

As we approach the implementation of the Marriage Equality Act, we rejoice in the extension of civil rights to same-sex couples in New York. We believe this extension to be fully consonant with the Good News of God in Jesus Christ proclaimed by the church.

In an earlier statement, published on the Diocese of Rochester Web site on June 23,  2011, Bishop Singh assured clergy that they would only be expected to do that which they feel comfortable with. 

“No priest will be forced to bless the civil marriage of the LGBT parishioners. We already practice a provision in our polity that does not mandate a priest to officiate in the marriage of a heterosexual couple for any reason,” said Singh.

He also said that he will be setting up a task force to help his Diocese chart its course.

The task force will help us to “engage this journey reverently, deliberately and in congruence with Church Law. I pray that all New Yorkers, those who support and those who oppose this Act, will celebrate the fact that the human rights of a community have been affirmed by the state,” said Singh.

“Since no one is free until everyone is free, Marriage Equality takes us closer to our pursuit of a more wholesome society,” said Singh.

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