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2 F.C. Church Leaders Differ Sharply On Marriage Equality Court Decision

VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL Mark Herring speaking at a press conference following the announcement that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality across the Potomac. Upon his election by under 200 votes in 2013, Herring, a former state legislator from Loudoun County, became the first state attorney general in the U.S. to refuse to defend his state's own anti-gay laws, setting the stage for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo: News-Press)
VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL Mark Herring speaking at a press conference following the announcement that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality across the Potomac. Upon his election by under 200 votes in 2013, Herring, a former state legislator from Loudoun County, became the first state attorney general in the U.S. to refuse to defend his state’s own anti-gay laws, setting the stage for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo: News-Press)

The rectors of Falls Church’s two Protestant congregations that have been at serious odds with each other for the better part of a decade, the Falls Church Anglican, the bulk of whose members defected from the historic Falls Church in 2006, and the “Continuing Episcopalians” who endured a seven-year legal battle to force the Anglicans out and to reclaim the historic church site for themselves, differed sharply on the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Friday that established marriage equality (including between same-sex couples) as the law of the land.

The Rev. John Ohmer of the Falls Church Episcopal, which is now solidly established at the historic church, issued the following statement, sent to the News-Press Sunday:

Statement of Rev. John Ohmer

“I’ve never understood why conservatives, of all people, would be opposed to people lining up and fighting for the opportunity to join the inherently conservative institution of marriage. Couples want to marry – to make lifelong promises to be exclusively loyal to one another, to be faithful to each other as long as they both shall live. And some people oppose that? Couples want – to paraphrase the United Methodist pastor and author Adam Hamilton – to share their lives together as one another’s helpers and companions, hold hands, share dreams, help one another when one is struggling, share memories, companionship, and a warm embrace, commit to love one another ‘for better and for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until they are parted by death’ – and some people are somehow against that? On moral grounds?!? Committed, unconditional, mutual, exclusive, faithful, and lifelong covenant love is what couples sign on for when they marry each other. None of us keep those promises and vows perfectly. But the Supreme Court has said that that now, gay couples – no matter what state they happen to live in – can at least legally try. I say thanks be to God. And if couples – straight or gay – are looking for a faith community in which to make, and then try to honor those lifelong commitments, well, The Episcopal Church welcomes them.”

By contrast, a statement by the Rev. John Yates of the breakaway Anglican congregation (which recently announced plans to build a new church on Arlington Blvd. less than a mile from the historic church), made the following statement in a written missive to his congregants:

Statement of Rev. John Yates

“The U.S. Supreme Court made a decision Friday that made many Americans very happy, but those who hold to biblical values cannot share in that joy. Jesus taught us that God made man male and female, that marriage is only between a man and woman, and that those who don’t marry are to live pure and chaste lives. Whenever our government endorses a way of living that God has condemned, it cannot be good for our country, and so we are grieved. When people are so confused about their own identity, it is grievous to us as well. And when there is such a huge outpouring of support for practices that God has condemned, it causes us to fear for our country…Even as we see our nation embracing shameful practices, let us not be so focused on sexual sins that we forget God’s other warnings against, for instance, greed, envy, pride, and the callous disregard of the poor.”

Meanwhile, in a press conference at the plaza outside the Arlington Courthouse Friday afternoon, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring hailed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage made across the Potomac. Herring played a major role in the SCOTUS decision by being the first state attorney general in the nation to challenge his own state’s gay marriage ban and won at the district and appeals court levels setting the stage for today’s Supreme Court ruling.

Herring said, “This is an extraordinary moment in our nation’s recognition that Americans cannot and will not be denied dignity, rights and responsibilities, including those of marriage, simply because of who they love. It has been one of the greatest honors of my career to help the Commonwealth lead the nation on this fundamental civil rights issue. Our work to achieve equality and a level playing field for every Virginian is not done. I look forward to making communities safer for LGBT Virginians of all ages. Today’s ruling is a giant step in that direction.”

He said Friday’s decision will stand as an enormous precedent for the removal of all anti-discriminatory laws at all levels, and for the full enfranchisement of an entire class of citizens who have been denied that protection. He urged everyone to read in full Supreme Court Justice Kennedy’s “beautiful” argument for the majority.

In February 2014, after Herring broke with the law of the Commonwealth to not support, but actively oppose, its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in the case of Bostic Vs. Rainey, he’d stated following oral arguments on the case the following then:

“Today was a very significant day in the journey towards full equality under the law for all Virginians. I am proud to say that the Commonwealth of Virginia stood on the right side of the law and the right side of history today in opposing this discriminatory ban.

“This case is fundamentally about whether Virginia can legally treat same-sex couples as second-class citizens, or whether the U.S. Constitution truly guarantees equality under the law. But this is more than an abstract legal debate. The answer to this question affects the lives of thousands of Virginians who are our friends, our neighbors, coworkers, fellow parishioners at our churches, our brothers and our sisters, and they deserve to be treated exactly the same as all other Virginians.

“Although we have much to be proud of, there have been times where brave Virginians have led the fight for civil rights while their state stood against them. Whether it was the right to a public education regardless of race, the right to marry the person you love regardless of skin color, or the right to attend state colleges and universities regardless of gender, Virginia has too often found itself on the wrong side of landmark civil rights cases. The injustice of Virginia’s position in those cases will not be repeated this time. Today, the Commonwealth of Virginia got it right.”

Virginia State Del. Marcus Simon, in his first term succeeding Del. Jim Scott to represent the 53rd District that includes the City of Falls Church, was with Herring at his press conference in Arlington Friday and issued the following statement:

“I am excited to continue working on re-writing Virginia’s Code to reflect the reality of marriage equality as the law of the land. I was pleased to read reports that Speaker of the House William J. Howell has dropped his opposition to these efforts, and look forward to continuing this work as a bi-partisan effort.

“That said, I still expect that some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle may be tempted to look for ways to resist and undermine the decision; I think that would be a huge mistake for Virginia’s image and economy. Most likely the new battle lines will form around social issues of discrimination in public accommodations and housing. That is why I’ve introduced a bill to add sexual orientation to our fair housing statute every year I’ve been a member of the House of Delegates. It is time for the General Assembly to recognize that all Virginians are entitled to equal protection under the laws of the Commonwealth, regardless of who they love or choose to marry.”