MAINE: Bishop supports 'rights and obligations of civil marriage' for all state citizens

April 23, 2009

During a hearing April 22 in Augusta, Maine, a representative of Episcopal Diocese of Maine Bishop Steven Lane told legislators that they ought 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," Lane said in testimony submitted by Heidi Shott, the diocese's canon for communications and social justice. The hearing in the Augusta Civic Center, which was attended by 3,000 people according to published reports, concerned a bill (L.D. 1020) to allow same-gender couples to marry. The bill is titled "An Act To End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom." Lane was not able to attend the hearing in person due to a scheduling conflict, Shott said. Lane said in his written testimony that the Episcopal Church "has been engaged in a decades' long conversation about human sexuality and the church" and that "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," he said. "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." Lane also said that the 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," he added. "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." The Episcopal Church Executive Council was concluding a three-day meeting in Portland, Maine on April 22. That evening it heard from Lane and others about the mission and ministry of the diocese and of Province I.