Bishop Paul Stumme-Diers of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, has written a pastoral letter amplifying the decision of the synod to oppose the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage that is before voters in Wisconsin. The text of that letter is reproduced below. It’s refreshing to see a person of this stature in the ELCA take this dramatic and public level ofsupport for equality of same-sex couples.
The bishop’s letter:
A Pastoral Letter on The Marriage Amendment – October 2006
“Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.”
language of this proposed state constitutional amendment. I write this pastoral letter to amplify that decision, and to promote the climate established in this synod in 1991 through the passage of a Reconciling in Christ resolution. In that action, among other findings, we as a synod affirmed that gay and lesbian people share with all others the worth that comes from being loved and forgiven children of God.
No one involved with pastoral work in the church questions that the estate of marriage has some profound fissures within it. From premarital counseling with those possessing idealized expectations, to walking with couples through the stresses of modern marriage, to sharing the ache of divorces and their fall-out, rostered leaders can attest to the need in our society to strengthen the institution of marriage. Though the proposed constitutional amendment claims to address these concerns, it in fact does no such thing. Instead it provides a distraction from the urgent concerns before our society, including marriage, by scapegoating committed, same-gender relationships.
Christian tradition has always understood marriage as a life-long relationship between a man and a woman, based on Scripture and practice. This definition is already stated in our states statutes, and so the first sentence is redundant, deeming it moot. As such, this referendum does nothing to bolster the institution of marriage, and instead creates obstacles for stable and long-lasting relationships between same gender couples who seek the same civil rights under the law as other adults. It establishes a false dichotomy between the health of the institution of marriage in our state and the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons.
The proposed constitutional amendment contains a number of consequences that are unjust and discriminatory: curtailing hospital visitation rights, lessening protections on domestic violence, threatening adoption rights and health insurance accessibility, and in general creating a climate hostile to the gay and lesbian population, are among my many reservations with this proposal before the Wisconsin electorate.
Heterosexual couples who elect not to have the state recognize their relationship as a marriage will also be victims of this proposal. Many clergy have counseled elderly individuals, heavily reliant upon Social Security, who through marriage lose out on necessary benefits afforded them in their single or widowed status. They are a forgotten population impacted by this proposed constitutional amendment, effectively having civil rights revoked because of law that is unjust and unfair. Imagine if they were denied hospital visitation or power of attorney as an unintended consequence of this action.
As a leader in the faith community, I am compelled to speak out against this measure, for the infinite worth of all Gods children is not dependent upon their sexual orientation nor upon marital status. This inherent worth must continue to be protected by the state constitution, which is intended to uphold the equality, value, and rights of its citizenry. The proposed revocation of civil rights is unprecedented and inconsistent with this understanding, and precipitates unintended consequences to populations seeking to live in stable and long-lasting relationships.
Therefore, I call upon the membership of the Greater Milwaukee Synod to:
1. Commit ourselves to strengthening marriages through advocating for a social climate that promotes healthy relationships: (Commentary) It is indeed true that the institution of marriage has some profound fissures within it, brought about by any number of factors. Economic and social stresses impact marriage. The cost of health care, the materialism that has crept into our lives, and the commoditization of sexuality, have all contributed to the fraying of the estate of marriage. The harried pace of our lives, the displacement of mothers and fathers who are soldiers to warring regions throughout the world, do little to promote this sacred institution. To address these the faith community must redouble its attention to the health and well-being of its people and its relationships.
2. Oppose this referendum through vote and voice. More information can be found at http://www.fairwisconsin.com
3. Foster healthy dialogue within our congregations, through initiating conversations that take place in a climate of prayer, community, and mutual respect.
4. Distribute this letter in the congregations of our synod.
Among the talking points important to this conversation: The commandment to love our neighbors encourages us to expand community, and not to diminish the civil rights of those seeking to live more abundantly in community. Such a constitutional amendment tears at the fabric of community by curtailing civil rights, and by incorrectly inferring that gay and lesbian relationships somehow undermine the institution of marriage.
Gay and lesbian persons are created, like all Gods children, in the image of God, and thus their rights and dignity ought not to be subverted. The infinite worth of all people is not dependent upon their sexual orientation. A false argument is set up by pitting the institution of marriage against the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons.
The unintended consequences of this proposed amendment, in curtailing civil rights, extend to all persons in non-married, committed relationships, affecting both heterosexuals and homosexuals.
The implications of this proposed amendment on chilling the application of domestic violence laws on non-married relationships is another of the unintended consequences that are of deep concern.
BISHOP PAUL STUMME-DIERS