I've had a few days to consider the statement issued by Bishop James Mathes of San Diego on the recent California Supreme Court decision and I have a few comments. I've pasted the bishop's letter below in italic and all boldfacing is mine.
While visiting the Diocese of El Salvador, I learned of yesterday's ruling by the California Supreme Court that it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to receive a California marriage license. With efforts already underway to place a constitutional amendment on November's ballot banning such marriages, it is clear that this issue will continue to permeate our political life.
A statement of the obvious, but note how the issue “will continue to permeate our political life” only – what about our communal, family, religious, and spiritual life?
I support the Supreme Court's decision and oppose the likely effort to amend the constitution. At a federal level, the constitution has only been successfully amended to expand rights, not remove them, and it follows that California would maintain a similar posture.
So by supporting the Supreme Court’s decision and opposing the effort to amend the California state constitution, he is discounting the popular vote of the people. Now, I agree that a popular vote on a particular issue is not the end-all and be-all, but I certainly think as bishop, he should acknowledge that this is part of our political process and not discredit it because he happens to agree with this court decision.
He is also very wrong in his statement that “At a federal level, the constitution has only been successfully amended to expand rights, not remove them. . .” As articulated by Ireaneus in the comments at Stand Firm:
“Wrong and wrong.
--- The Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution curtailed the right of an individual to sue a state in federal court---a right the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized in Chisholm v. Georgia (1793).
--- The Fourteenth Amendment precluded certain Confederate traitors from ever holding federal office, notwithstanding President Andrew Johnson’s pardon of them.
--- During the 1970s, as the U.S. Supreme Court curtailed Fourth Amendment (searches and seizures) and Fifth Amendment (self-incrimination) doctrine, the California Supreme Court held that the state constitution provided broader protections. California voters overturned those rulings during the early 1980s.”
And from The_Archer_of_the_Forest at TitusOneNine:
Well, as a political science major and amateur poly-sci scholar and as someone who has spent time in law school, that is a somewhat flawed understanding of constitutional law. Granted that the first ten amendments are the Bill of Rights, I can give the examples of prohibition (though ultimately repealed), most of the amendments stemming from the civil war (which gave freedom to ex-slaves, but took rights away from slave owners), and the amendment to limit the term of office for a president to 2 elected terms or a maximum of 10 years limits power. Not to mention the 16th amendment which established the federal governments right to extend its power over the individual in the form of an income tax.”
One wonders if +Mathes even researched this sentence, is making assumptions, or just repeating what someone else told him. And given that the entire letter rests on this assumption “the constitution has only been successfully amended to expand rights, not remove them,” the fact that the assumption is incorrect means that the entire letter is based on nothing, nothing other than +Mathes’s own thoughts and feelings and on nothing else – nothing scriptural, nothing legal, nothing moral, nothing political, nothing constitutional.
While supporting the rights of gays and lesbians, I am mindful that our church has not yet made the decision to bless same-sex unions. We are in the midst of a challenging but vital conversation about holy relationships in this diocese and indeed across the communion.
First off, what “rights” has he as a bishop been supporting? If he is referring to treating all, Christian or not, as creatures of God with the love and respect Jesus calls us to, then I would have to say I hope he has supported the rights of all people, not just one particular group. And we have been in “the midst of a challenging but vital conversation” about this for forty years.
To even call these “holy relationships” when that has not been determined by the greater Church is an indication that +Mathes is committed to a particular “rights” agenda. Of course, at this past February’s diocesan convention, San Diego passed this resolution:
Be It Resolved that the Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego is urged to appoint a theologically diverse Task Force of clergy and lay people reflective of the Diocese, to study Holiness in Relationships and Blessings in Churches of this Diocese from the perspectives of holy scripture, church history and tradition; practical, pastoral and sacramental theology; and the movement of the Holy Spirit; and then prepare an academic paper on the subject to be presented to the 2009 Convention of the Diocese of San Diego, with additional recommendations as that Task Force might deem appropriate.
Be it Further Resolved, in advance of the presentation at convention, workshops be promoted throughout the diocese to engage congregations in this work and mission.
EXPLANATION OF RESOLUTION:
Whereas much of the conflict in the Episcopal Church concerns the issue of holiness in relationships, and
Whereas the Order for Marriage found in the Book of Common Prayer states that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman, and
Whereas, there are persons in the Episcopal Church (gay and lesbian, seniors and others constrained by financial concerns) who are in committed, monogamous relationships who wish to have their relationships blessed in the church by a clergy person, and
Whereas there are persons in the church, who because of their understanding of scripture and what constitutes a faithful life are opposed to such blessings occurring in the church, and
Whereas liturgical practices surrounding the blessing of unions are not consistent throughout the greater church, and
Whereas the House of Bishops in their September 25, 2007 response to “questions and concerns raised by our Anglican Communion partners,” noted that the 1998 Lambeth Conference called on provinces of the Anglican Communion to engage in a “listening process” designed to bring all Anglicans fully into the Church’s conversation about human sexuality and holy relationships, and
Whereas engaging in such a listening process is a fundamental step before engaging in any action on the matter.
At the time, we were told that “there is no hidden agenda here, we want to have an open-ended conversation and see where it takes us.” I agree that the agenda wasn’t hidden at all, it was blatant – just read through the “Whereas’s” in the Explanation.
I ask all people of the diocese to hold the court's decision gently.
I ask, seriously, what does that mean? I’m not trying to be obtuse or sarcastic – I really don’t think anyone knows what that means. Does it mean don’t get too upset if you disagree with the decision? Does it mean acknowledge that this decision might be upsetting to some? Please, tell me, because to me it sounds like psychobabble.
Prayerfully remember that God has placed his children, who share different perspectives on same-sex relationships, next to each other in church every Sunday.
And God has placed us in church so that we can learn from His Word, through the life and resurrection of Jesus and the Holy Scripture. “Different perspectives” mean very little against God’s Eternal Word.
As Archbishop Rowan Williams said, "our baptism puts us in solidarities not of our own choosing." Let us be good stewards of these solidarities and teach each other, and the wider community, how to listen and learn from each other as we accept the Court's decision to allow equal access to the institution of marriage.
Solidarity, singularity, it sounds like a Star Trek script.
+Mathes is telling us here that we are to accept the Court’s decision (because remember, he opposes amending the California constitution) and we are to “listen and learn from each other.” What he’s saying is that the Diocese of San Diego, once the initial reaction from this decision is over, will push hard to allow same-sex blessing and marriage sacraments in the Episcopal Church.
If one believes that the court decision is correct, then what is the point of listening and learning, other than to convince those who disagree with the court decision that we must abide by it. +Mathes accepts and supports the court’s decision, therefore +Mathes accepts and supports same-sex blessings and marriage.
And as we have learned from the Episcopal Church’s shameful affiliation with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, that which the courts have deemed legal, the Episcopal Church will soon call not only moral, but mandatory and holy.