Equality of Marriage

The sacraments of Baptism and Communion form the basis of Christian life. From these two primary sacraments derive the five other rites traditionally ascribed as sacraments. Three of these – confirmation, marriage, and ordination – are rites of commitment that derive from the primary Christian covenant of Baptism. Confirmation is the time at which God blesses the adult ratification of the baptismal covenant. Marriage is the time at which God adds a special blessing to persons who wish to work the rest of their lives together fulfilling their baptismal covenant. Ordination is the time at which God adds a special blessing to persons wishing to serve in the diaconal, priestly, and Episcopal functions of the Church.

There is no other logical basis by which marriage can be called a sacrament. Although marriage may serve a number of other functions, including companionship and child raising, these functions cannot raise it to sacramental status. That status is achieved only by its relationship to Baptism. It is closely akin to ordination, in that God unites married people together for the purpose of joint ministry in the Kingdom. Although we disagree with the conclusion, it is clear to see that this is the underlying theological basis for the Roman Catholic Church’s prohibition of any one person being both ordained and married.

Baptism is and always has been open to all people. It is God’s free gift, not our human action. Infants, adults, males, females, gays, straights, etc., are baptized. It is because of our Baptism – and only because of it – that we are sacramentally qualified to receive the graces of marriage and ordination. This is not to say that everyone is emotionally ready to be married or intellectually ready to be ordained (or vice versa!). But it does mean that Baptism is the spiritual grace that makes marriage or ordination possible.

Marriage as a sacrament technically has nothing to do with sex. It is not about sexual intimacy and it is not about procreation. It is about ministry. We believe that sexual intimacy is an important part of the bond that makes the married people good teammates. We believe that a stable marriage is the most appropriate environment in which to raise children. But these things are neither the core purpose nor requirements of marriage.

To limit marriage to any sexual subset of the population is not consistent with this sacramental view. The dynamics of male-male and female-female partnerships are essentially equivalent to those of male-female partnerships. In all such cases, the magic lies in the balance that the individuals provide for each other. The result is “greater than the sum of the parts.” This is why God blesses marriage. Through it God can make servant teams that are more powerful than the individual players would be by themselves.

Gay, lesbian, and heterosexual marriages are, therefore, exactly equivalent in the eyes of God and should be so equivalent in the eyes of both the Church and the state. To argue that marriage must be restricted to male-female couples destroys the essential nature of the sacrament. It reduces this gracious act of God to something merely physical or biological. It restricts the sacraments of Christ and hinders the work of the Holy Spirit. We know and have seen the Holy Spirit work in marriages of all gender compositions.

The Ecumenical Catholic Church has held these doctrines since its founding in 1987. It has conducted many gay and lesbian marriages, and uses exactly the same liturgy for them as for heterosexual marriages. There simply is no distinction at a sacramental level, and gender is considered to be totally irrelevant as far as the sacramental aspect of the relationship is concerned.

State laws which arbitrarily sanction some sacramental actions and not others infringe upon our religious freedom and the freedom of our members. For this reason, we have always stood for the equalization of marriage laws. If the state is to grant special privileges to some of the persons who participate in a sacrament because of that participation (i.e., those married in heterosexual marriages) then it must indiscriminately grant those privileges to all who participate in that sacrament.

To this end we call the state to let the various denominations determine their own qualifications for marriage and to recognize all those marriages. Certainly there are people who qualify for marriage in other religious institutions that would not so qualify in the Ecumenical Catholic Church (we have baptismal and premarital counseling requirements). Likewise, we do not expect all of our people to be accepted as marriage candidates within other religious institutions. But the state must be a neutral when it comes to religion. It is not. It has taken the bad marital theology of some churches, which in turn is derived from nonreligious social prejudices, and set it in law, thus discriminating against our sacraments.

Likewise we call upon our fellow Christians – particularly those who recognize marriage as a sacrament – to seriously reopen their theological considerations of the sacramental nature of marriage. We ask them to put aside the blinders of a heterosexist society and to explore with the openness of the Spirit. We ask them to explore with intellectual honesty in their search of the truth. In doing so we are confident that they will discover that God can and does use the sacramental marriage team of gay men, lesbian women, and heterosexuals with equal dignity, equal power, equal love, and equal grace.

We know that the Kingdom of Heaven has been enhanced by gay and lesbian couples throughout history. This even includes some such as Sergius and Bacchus who were openly recognized and officially canonized as saints in the very early Church. Rather than stand against the progress of the Spirit, we especially call upon the churches of Christ to boldly stand for love and truth, and to pave the way toward marital equality in the United States and the world. To do otherwise is to limit the Holy Spirit to a subset of the population and to darken the all-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Mark Shirilau 08/19/1999


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