By The Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale
Editor’s Note: On January 1, 2011, two lesbian priests of the Episcopal Church, The Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, Dean and President of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Rev. Canon Mally Ewing Lloyd, Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Massachusetts, were married in Boston, Massachusetts. Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, the state’s highest-ranking Episcopal official, presided over the ceremony. Opinions about this wedding have circulated the internet. The Rev. Katherine Ragsdale pens her story exclusively for dot429.
It’s not that we wanted to make a political statement. But neither were we surprised when it was perceived as one. We know the personal is political, especially when you hold public positions and the world feels entitled to weigh in on your personal choices. We wanted to be married for pretty much the usual reasons: we love each other; we believe in each other; we believe we can be better together than we are alone; we want to commit to one another, to care for one another (for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health), and to grow old together.
We also have reasons that may be viewed as more peculiar to our individual identities. We are priests, and we believe marriage is sacramental–marriage creates new life with new possibilities and responsibilities. We believe that the two of us together, in our marriage, are called to additional ways to love and serve God and God’s people, above and beyond what each of us is already doing. We believe that such commitments are important and that they should be made, celebrated, and supported within community, within the broader Church. And we are lesbians. It never occurred to us that at this point in our lives, we would find someone to love and commit to, but also that the Church, the State, and literally hundreds of our family, friends and colleagues would stand with us to love and support us. We want to honor this world, unimaginable when we were children, in which we now find ourselves.
As we are both in our fifties, we knew it would have to be a big ceremony. We’ve had many years to accumulate friends and loved ones. We knew our wedding would become public because we hold public and visible positions, not to mention the fact that both the Church and the federal government are arguing about whether we ought to be allowed to make such commitments to celebrate and sanctify our life together. We’re lucky that we live in Massachusetts, where the State and the Episcopal Church allow and recognize our marriage. This does create opportunity for dissension in the broader Church. Anglicans worldwide are in the midst of protracted arguments about whether such marriages should be allowed and whether the Anglican Communion should split, protecting those who don’t support such marriages from being contaminated by those who do.
While we’re on the subject, let’s be clear. The fact that the State authorizes a marriage in no way compels any Church to perform or recognize it. As priests, we are entitled to refuse to perform any marriage for any reason. Roman Catholics routinely demonstrate this liberty when they refuse to perform marriages of divorced persons, even though the State allows them to do so. Similarly, they refuse to recognize marriages of non-Roman Catholics even though the State has issued a license. Political arguments against states allowing same-sex marriages and the federal government recognizing these marriages that claim it would violate the “sanctity” of marriage and force churches to do something contrary to their teaching or their conscience, are blatantly misleading and dishonest. Marriage equality merely guarantees equality under the law to all citizens; it does not compel churches to do anything.
The direction of the Holy Spirit seems readily discernible to many of us. The Church, throughout the world, is growing in the direction of inclusion and justice for all God’s people, including Mally and me. For now, the fights continue. Anglicans, among others, fight and threaten schism over our marriages, over our love, and our lives. Mally is Canon to the Ordinary (the Bishop’s chief of staff), and I am the President and Dean of an Episcopal Seminary. Because of this, we are in danger of becoming the newest poster-children in this on-going fight. All of this–for doing something as old-fashioned, traditional, and family value-focused as getting married surrounded by friends and family in the church.