Just received from the Diocese of Maine:
To the Ordained and Lay Leaders of the Diocese of Maine
After considerable reflection I have decided to add my voice to the testimony being offered at the legislative hearing to be held by the Judiciary Committee on April 22, 2009 concerning L.D. 1020, "An Act To End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom." As my presence is required elsewhere that day, Canon Heidi Shott will read the testimony in my stead.
I have decided to submit testimony because I believe the conversations we've had within the Episcopal Church can be of use to our wider community. I think we have something to say beyond simply "yes" or "no." I'm writing to you so that you will know exactly what I am saying and will have this information no matter what is reported in the press. My personal opinions are fairly well known on this matter, and I spoke to you about them during the election process. But I think it's essential that all of us in the diocese continue the conversation ourselves, and that all points of view be honored.
My testimony will be brief and will focus on equal rights and protection under civil law. I acknowledge continuing discussion within the church and affirm that there should be no coercion for anyone to act contrary to conscience or church doctrine.
The written version of the testimony that will be submitted to members of the Judiciary Committee may be found below. (Because of a three minute time limit on oral testimony, a shorter version will be read on Wednesday.) I welcome your response.
If you would like more information about the legislative hearing, please contact Canon Heidi Shott.
The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine
Testimony Regarding L.D. 1020, "An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom"
Submitted by the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, IX Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine
Presented by Cn. Heidi Shott, Canon for Communications and Social Justice, Episcopal Diocese of Maine
Thank you Senator Bliss, Representative Priest and members of the Judiciary Committee for the opportunity to share this testimony.
I stand in support of the L.D. 1020, "An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom." I write as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, a diocese of The Episcopal Church, but this testimony is my own and does not represent a decision by the Diocese of Maine.
The Episcopal Church has been engaged in a decades' long conversation about human sexuality and the church. We have some practice in this. I have participated in discussions for more than twenty years and think the outcomes of those conversations may benefit the dialogue we're engaging in today.
The Episcopal Church, long ago, concluded and publicly proclaimed through its own legislative body that gay and lesbian persons are children of God and, by baptism, full members of the church. We have also concluded that sexual orientation, in and of itself, is no bar to holding any office or ministry in the church, as long as the particular requirements of that office or ministry are met. And we have repeatedly affirmed our support for the human and civil rights of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered persons. In many of our congregations, both here in Maine and around the country, faithful same sex couples and their families are participating in the life of the church and sharing in the work of ministry and service to their communities.
If we, as Mainers, believe that faithful, lifelong monogamous relationships are among the building blocks of a healthy and stable society, then it is in our interest to extend the rights and obligations of civil marriage to all Maine citizens. To deny those rights to certain persons on the basis of sexual orientation is to create two classes of citizens and to deny one group what we believe is best for them and for society.
The Episcopal Church continues its conversations about doctrine in relation to same sex marriage and the blessing of same sex relationships, and there is yet no consensus. We continue to search for ways to honor the varied viewpoints of all our members and to provide a place of dignity and respect for each of them. Therefore, I also affirm that part of L.D. 1020 that states there will be no effort to compel or coerce any minister to act in a way contrary to his or her belief and conscience. There will certainly never be any requirement in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine to act in contravention of conscience or of church doctrine. It is my expectation that The Episcopal Church will continue to engage in this conversation for some years, even as I hope the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage will be extended to all Maine citizens.