Bishop Thomas Ely is one of 29 Episcopal bishops who have signed an amici curiae (friends of the courts) brief in the United States Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which prevents the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex civil marriages in their dioceses. The bishops represent 23 of 24 dioceses in civil jurisdictions with marriage equality located in the States of California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
The eight bishops of the six California dioceses signed a second, similar brief challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that ended access to civil marriage for same-sex couples.
A resolution adopted by the 2012 General Convention of The Episcopal Church called on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and other similar laws. Actions of previous General Conventions called on government at all levels to provide legal protection for same-sex couples and authorized “bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, [to] provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church.”
The briefs argue three primary points:
- A wide cross section of American religious traditions recognizes the dignity of lesbian and gay people and their relationships, including in some cases by provision of ways to celebrate and solemnize their marriages;
- A growing number of faiths support civil marriage equality, in recognition that there is a distinction between civil and religious marriage;
- Recognition of the civil marriages of same-sex couples will not impinge on religious beliefs or practices but will prevent one set of religious beliefs from being imposed through civil law.
The invitation to join in signing the briefs came from the Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, Bishop of California. Other amici joining the Episcopal bishops on both briefs include the Rabbinical Assembly, which is the international association of conservative rabbis; the Union for Reform Judaism; the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, the professional association of Reconstructionist rabbis; the Unitarian Universalist Association; and the United Church of Christ among others. Groups within the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American, Society of Friends, and The United Methodist Church also signed the brief.
Find the Episcopal News Service story here.
Find a pdf file of the brief in opposition to DOMA here.