This June, by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and effectively legalizing same-sex marriage again in my home state of California, the Supreme Court of the United States significantly advanced the cause of marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. In celebration of the two marriage rulings, and as a sign of unity with the LGBT community, the Washington Ringing Society rang a quarter peal of the Cathedral’s bells in the Gloria in Excelsis central tower at noon on June 26, the day of the court’s decisions. A service for LGBT families and friends was held later that evening at the Cathedral.
As I noted when the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decisions were handed down, the rulings pertaining to civil marriage should serve as a call for people of faith to embrace the idea of sacramental same-sex marriage as well. After all, the Church has only been in the marrying business for about a thousand years. We people of faith have been on a long trajectory in our understanding of marriage—from polygamy at the outset, to an unequal relationship between a man and a woman, to a more mutual and equal pairing of persons of opposite sex. We are now at a place where we are beginning to
see, together, that the sacrament of marriage is
a divine gift on offer to everybody, regardless of sexual orientation.
This issue of Cathedral Age profiles two same-sex couples modeling God’s love in lifelong relationships. Tom Wright and Joe Luebke, long-time Cathedral staff members married in a private ceremony three years ago by former Bishop of Washington John Bryson Chane, hold the distinction of being the first gay couple (and only, as of the time of this publication) to have been married at the Cathedral before I announced a more formal marriage-equality policy this past January. Cathedral Congregation members Avice Meehan and Barbara Roberts are the first same-sex couple to have applied for a wedding at the Cathedral since the new policy was adopted. Our prayers for continued happiness go with Tom and Joe, Avice and Barbara—and all same-sex couples who will be joined in matrimony in the future, whether at Washington National Cathedral or elsewhere.
But even as the Supreme Court gives, it takes away. Only one day before its marriage equality rulings, the Court took a surprising step backward by disabling the preclearance requirement in Section Five of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, a signature achievement of the civil rights movement that helped bring me into the life of the Church. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent, “the VRA is no ordinary legislation. It is extraordinary, because Congress embarked on a mission long delayed and of extraordinary importance: to realize the purpose and promise of the Fifteenth Amendment.” Now, unfortunately, “The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed. With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.”
In some ways, in fact, history has continued: the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, and the vast majority of persons imprisoned here are minorities. Our prisons are remote and overcrowded; returning citizens cannot find jobs or places to live. Another article within these pages reports on a recent Cathedral-sponsored conference that explored the need for the Church to answer Christ’s call in Matthew 25:31–46 to visit the imprisoned—a call issued without disclaimers.
In a sermon I preached about the VRA decision on Sunday, June 30 (p. 30), I observed that to follow Jesus requires that we care about the plight of those we don’t know as well as the wellbeing of those we do. The way to show that we care is by establishing justice, which for far too long has been denied to racial minorities and other marginalized groups in our society—perhaps because establishing justice asks that we identify with “the other.” Those of us who enjoy the full expanse of freedom offered by our country may not understand what it means to lack the robust protection of the law. But we can understand what the Gospel makes very clear: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”