Bishop Boerger of Northwest Washington Synod Asks State Senate to Pass Marriage Equality

Bishop Boerger of Northwest Washington Synod Asks State Senate to Pass Marriage Equality

Bishop Chris Boerger, ELCA Northwest Washington Synod, testified on Monday at a public hearing of the Washington State Senate Committee on Government Operations and Tribal Relations & Elections, saying that he was in favor of LGBT couples being able to have legally-recognized marriages that are equal in the state. 

Bp Boerger’s statement to the hearing:  “Mr. Chairman, I am Chris Boerger, the bishop of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Church in America. In 2009 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to commit itself to find ways to allow congregations who choose to do so to support and hold publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same gender relationships. That’s quite a mouthful: publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. One of the people who had questions about our doing this said, “Bishop, isn’t that marriage?” And my response is, “Well, in everything but name.” The reality is, the Lutheran church has always held that it is the state that defines what marriage is; it’s the church that then blesses people who enter into that relationship. We have now stated our desire to bless those who are publicly accountable in lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. We can’t call it marriage–you can. That’s why I am here today to say there will be those in my church who will not participate; we understand that freedom. There are those who want to, and we ask for that freedom.”

Executive Director Emily Eastwood said, ” We thank Bp. Boerger for his courageous witness. His statement reflects the fine line of the ELCA social statement which allows freedom of choice for those pastors and congregations wishing to perform marriages for same-gender couples in states where such are legal. The Northwest Washington Synod has long supported full participation for LGBT people in the life of church and society. Bp. Boerger’s statements reflect the views already expressed by the synod. Nevertheless, by taking these views to the legislature and, therefore, into the media, Bp. Boerger has acted for justice. Our thanks are due.”

Video of the hearing:  (Forward video to about the 1:12:20 time mark.)

The hearing was on Senate Bill 6239, “An act relating to providing equal protection for all families in Washington by creating equality in civil marriage and changing the domestic partnership laws, while protecting religious freedom…” 

This act would establish no differentiation under state law between civil marriage rights, responsibilities and benefits for same-gender or opposite-gender couples.  Further, the bill would provide that registered domestic partnerships between same-gender persons that currently exist would be deemed to be marriages automatically on June 30, 2014, unless the couple gets married prior to that date or have initiated separation proceedings as of that date.  Religious freedom is fully protected in the bill: no religious minister or congregation would be forced by the law to perform marriages they did not wish to, or forced to allow their facilities to be used for that purpose.

There is a parallel bill to the same effect in process in the Washington State House of Representatives, HB 2516.

On Monday also, State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen announced that she would vote for the marriage equality bill, making her the 25th senator to so state and the passage of the bill practically assured.  There are already sufficient votes in the State House of Representatives for passage.  Washington Governor Christine Gregoire has stated that she would sign the bill into law when it passes.

From reports it appears the bill will come out of the Senate committee by Thursday of this week, and out of the House committee by January 30th. There are other procedural steps before it will come to a vote.

In opposition, there is a bill running for a joint resolution of the whole legislature that seeks to place on the ballot at the next general election an amendment to the state’s constitution that states, in part: “Recognizing that marriage between persons other than a male and a female has never been authorized or recognized by law in this state, only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in Washington. The uniting of two persons other than one male and one female in any marital relationship, although recognized as valid in another jurisdiction, is not recognized as valid in this state.”

Phil Soucy
Director Communications LC/NA