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I want to thank the council for giving this opportunity for the public to express its feelings on marriage equality in the District of Columbia. I am the Rev. Brian Merrritt a Senior Pastor at The Palisades Community Church an interdenominational, ecumenical congregation that has met in the Palisades neighborhood for over 86 years.
Let me state from the outset that I do not believe that the District has any compelling reasons to infringe on the liturgical rights of legitimate minority religious groups and the free exercise of their religious practices. In an instance such as marriage, it is time for us to return to the reason the framers of our constitution wisely inserted the idea of separation of church and state into our form of government. Too, often it is insinuated that this is to protect the national, state and local government from anything but a secular influence. Yet, the understanding of separation of church and state is to protect religious people (especially minority groups) and their worshipping communities from the imposition of state sanctioned ecclesiology, theology or liturgy.
When I participated in a same sex marriage ceremony at my church, they are marriages in our liturgical context regardless of whether you grant your citizens full civil rights or not. You cannot by any vote of council change the nature of your particular mandate: That is to assure the equality and equal representation of civil rights to each one of the citizens who lives within the bounds of the District of Columbia. So, unless you pass the resolution recognizing the civil rights inherent in the liturgical acts already happening in many of our religious communities, then the same sex members of our congregations will continue to be denied full rights and access as citizens of this District.
If the District imposed a fee/tax on every baptism, would you have the right to say that only infant baptism is valid? If the District imposed a fee on membership, would you have the right to say that every church member must believe in the Westminster Confession of Faith to be a member of a Christian congregation? If the District taxed those who participated in communion, would it have the right to determine who is worthy of receiving the elements? How is the liturgical act of marriage any different?
The difference is that if you imposed a state ecclesiology, theology or liturgy on those acts, they would infringe on majority religious organizations and that would be unthinkable. The District must resolve that government has waded into regulating liturgical acts and that it is time to side with the freedom of religion that our founders so deeply cherished. Though some in the majority may fear the freedom my congregation craves, they are not harmed, but strengthened by religious freedom.
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