As legislation allowing same-gender marriage comes closer to approval in Maryland, the Rev. John. R. Deckenback, UCC Central Atlantic Conference Minister, delivered testimony to the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee Feb. 25 in support of the bill. He was invited by Equality Maryland as one of many leaders offering testimony at the hearing.
His testimony included details of the UCC's ongoing support for same-gender couples and its work in the national marriage equality movement. Deckenback also addressed the social realities of same-gender couples. "Same gender loving couples are respected members of our churches and communities, he said. "We should celebrate spiritually and legally the covenants which they have made to each other."
Deckenback's statement is below and a video of his testimony is available online.
Testimony in Support of HB 175
Religious Freedom and Civil Protection Act
State of Maryland
House of Delegates
February 25, 2011
Rev. Dr. John R. Deckenback
United Church of Christ
Central Atlantic Conference
Delegate Vallario and members of the Judiciary Committee, I am the Rev. John R. Deckenback.
Since 1992 I have been the Conference Minister, chief executive and spiritual leader of the United Church of Christ’s Central Atlantic Conference. Our Catonsville offices serve 175 congregations and 450 clergy.
My wife and I live in downtown Frederick.
Thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony. This is not the first time I have appeared before this committee in support of marriage equality.
In 2005, the delegates at the national General Synod of the United Church of Christ overwhelmingly affirmed marriage equality. I am proud that the Central Atlantic Conference was one of the sponsors of this resolution. I am also pleased that since 2005 additional faith communities have joined in affirming marriage equality.
Through the legislation which is before you today, and the companion Senate legislation, I believe the Maryland legislature is on the cusp of doing something great which is politically, ethically and theologically sound.
Understandings regarding marriage in the church and large society have evolved over the years. In Biblical texts you can find acknowledgment of polygamy, servants substituted for "barren wives", or the consideration of wives as property. In our church, 19th century missionaries were required to be married but only male missionaries could vote. Our understandings of marriage have changed and will continue to change.
The United Church of Christ’s Book of Worship teaches that "Marriage is a gift of God, sealed in sacred covenant."
The faith communities represented here today continue to define marriage in a variety of ways. I believe it is in Maryland’s best interests to acknowledge that marriages and families come in a variety of forms. Religious liberty is one of the founding principles of our state and country ... our forebears learned (often the hard way) that discrimination, even discrimination based on religious conviction, can exact a painful price on the very fabric of a community.
I see no compelling state interest in continuing discrimination in marriage based on gender.
Same gender loving couples are respected members of our churches and communities. We should celebrate spiritually and legally the covenants which they have made to each other.
Several United Church of Christ pastors and lay members from our congregations in Maryland have joined me here today. Regularly, these pastors are invited into the most spiritually intimate moments of people’s lives, including the prayerful decisions of couples to marry.
My wife is the pastor of one of our Montgomery County congregations. She along with other pastors share how our congregations have been blessed by the presence of same gender loving couples. These are couples who desire to be fully embraced not only by the congregations but by the society at large. Sadly, many of these constructive Maryland couples have had to go elsewhere to have their marriages recognized legally.
A Frederick pastor of one of this state’s oldest congregations recently shared with me that their congregation has experienced growing pains because the church is growing as a result of its open and affirming affirmation that all are welcome. Couples of all types have found a home at the church and are inviting their friends to join them.
Our 2005 General Synod vote for marriage equality was not just symbolic but it has found real meaning in the fabric of our congregations.
That Frederick congregation has grown numerically as well as in its spiritual understanding of what it means to be a welcoming Christian community.
Some have suggested that some other term should be used to describe the precious relationship between same gender loving couples. Lets not duck the use of the word marriage … it is an important word that carries tremendous symbolism and connotes privileges and responsibilities. Substitute words for the real thing just don’t measure up.
Members of the Committee, I am here as a pastor, a person of faith, one who celebrates his Christian faith to urge you to fully embrace marriage equality for all of Maryland’s citizens.
Thank you for your caring and your time.