As an Episcopal clergyman from New Orleans, and one who believes strongly in religious liberty, on May 17, I spoke at the hearing to oppose House Bill 707. In recent years, the national Episcopal Church has moved forward in our strong support of gay and lesbian people. As I listened to both sides of the debate, I realized that the underlying issue was same-sex marriage. The National Episcopal Church has given our bishops the authority for our clergy to bless same-sex unions. Those who come to our church to have their union blessed must meet the same standards of heterosexuals in marriage — making a lifelong, caring and faithful commitment. Recently, we have had such blessings in the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.

Our church has come to believe in same-sex unions and marriage, and giving full support to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people for many reasons. First, there is a social justice issue. Recognizing same-sex marriages gives the couple legal rights that those in male-female marriages have, such as sharing tax, retirement and insurance benefits.

Second, our national church understands that the center of our faith is the love of Christ — how we give it to one another and how we receive it. That is what we strive for, when we are at our best. In St. Paul’s enduring words: “Faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” When we in our churches bless faithful, caring same-sex unions, we are fulfilling our understanding of the New Testament meaning of love. And that love extends to those we disagree with.

Third, when we look back at history, we see that the various stages of inclusion brought strength to the universal church and strength to the world, although these inclusion efforts brought strong controversy at first. It began, as we learn in the Book of Acts (chapter 15), when Jewish Christians brought Gentiles into the full life of the church. In our time, we know just how important it has been to bring people of all races not just into our churches but into the leadership of our churches. And we know — at least many Christians know — just how important it has been to bring women into the full leadership of the church. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church is the Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori.

Now, we, as a national church, look forward to bringing lesbian and gay individuals and couples not only into the church but more and more into the leadership of our individual churches and our national church.

william barnwell

Episcopal clergy

New Orleans