By Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy
Same-sex couples in the Rockbridge area have several ways to wed now that same-sex marriages are legal in Virginia.
Robert E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church, Lexington Presbyterian Church and Rockbridge Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship can now marry or bless the union of same-sex couples.
R.E. Lee Episcopal Church developed a policy two years ago that allows priests to bless the union of same-sex couples.
“Those of us on the vestry feel very strongly that God’s love can be expressed in different sorts of relationships and that we believe that God’s love can be reflected in same-sex relationships,” Senior Warden Dennis Cross said. “We wanted to make possible the opportunity to have same-sex relationships that reflect God’s love blessed by our parish.”
Once the General Convention affirmed the blessing of same-sex relationships, R.E. Lee Episcopal developed the policy on the blessing, Cross said. That was shortly after the Bishop of the Diocese of Southwest Virginia approved the liturgy in December 2012.
The blessing of same-sex unions enables priests to bless couples, regardless of whether they live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal or not.
When there were only a few states with legalized same-sex marriage, the blessing was a way to provide recognition of the importance of these committed relationships within the church and in the eyes of God’s love, Cross said.
“It will be interesting to see how the availability of same-sex marriages in many more states today offers new opportunities for marriage in the church and for recognition of these relationships,” he said.
Only active baptized members of the Episcopal Church or their children and grandchildren can partake in the service of the blessing. The Episcopal Church has other guidelines regarding the offering of a Christian blessing of same-sex relationships.
Lexington Presbyterian Church allows same-sex couples either to wed or to have their union blessed. Same-sex couples have to go before the church’s local governing board to determine whether a union can take place, according to the Rev. William M. Klein.
It is up to the individual couple to determine whether they want a blessing of the union or a marriage ceremony.
The Rockbridge Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship also welcomes same-sex couples to be married. Even though there is no minister at the fellowship, someone can be brought in to perform the same-sex marriage ceremony.
There is no policy at the fellowship regarding same-sex marriages because “for us, it is not an issue,” Fellowship President John Vosburgh said.
“We believe in the inherent worth of dignity of everyone, with no exceptions,” Vosburgh said. “We don’t really need a policy about it, except to be open and welcoming to everyone.”
So far, none of the three churches has had a request for either a same-sex marriage or a blessing of the union.
But the Rockbridge County clerk’s office has issued three marriage licenses in the two weeks since a Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriages in Virginia. The Buena Vista clerk’s office has issued one marriage license so far.
All of that was made possible when the Supreme Court refused to hear a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that overturned the Commonwealth of Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages on Oct. 6. The decision allowed same-sex unions to become legal in the five states of the Fourth Circuit, including Virginia.
Rallie Snowden, Washington and Lee University counselor and coordinator of services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning students – known as LGBTQ — moved to Lexington from Maryland last November. She and her wife were a little worried about the previous ban on same-sex marriages in Virginia.
They left a place where they had the right to get married for a place where they didn’t, Snowden said.
“We thought that we might see [the legalization of same-sex marriages] in Virginia in 10 or 15 years,” Snowden said. “Never in our dreams did we think that in about [a year] that we would have that.”
Snowden and her wife, Montez, have been together for almost nine years and married for almost two years.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 32 states across the U.S. Critics claim that while the decision to let stand lower court rulings allowed thousands of couples to wed, the Supreme Court missed an opportunity to assert its opinion on the matter.
Washington and Lee University student Austin Pierce agrees that the Supreme Court’s silence speaks volumes.
“Honestly, I feel like the decision not to take it up in court was a really back-handed way of dealing with the issue. And it is only temporary,” Pierce said in an email. “If the court really felt that same-sex marriage should be protected under the auspices of the Constitution, then it should have taken a case and ruled on it.”
Pierce is a senior philosophy, East Asian languages and literature, and economics major from Yorktown.
While some might be trying not to get their hopes up, many are optimistic about the future of gay marriage in the U.S.
W&L student Timothy Fisher is excited to know that Virginia has made more progress toward what he sees as an equal society. Fisher is a senior from Potomac, Md., double majoring in theater and history with a minor in museum studies.
“I don’t plan to be married anytime soon, but it’s important to me to know that I have the same rights as everyone else who lives in Virginia,” Fisher said in an email.
“In the immediate future, as I decide where to start my life after college, I am much more likely to consider staying in Virginia,” he said. “And I may have some wedding invitations coming soon.”