First openly gay bishop talks marriage equality in Iowa City

BY NICK HASSETT | MAY 06, 2013 5:00 AM

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One retired bishop believes that while widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage is inevitable, even in the mainline Christian churches, the hardest part in the debate for equality will be convincing the inland areas of the United States.

Bishop V. Gene Robinson, IX Bishop of New Hampshire, shared this message in Iowa City as the first openly gay bishop.

“I love being in Iowa,” Robinson said. “The East and West Coasts are the low hanging fruit, but the real work to be done is in the center of the country.”

When the 2009 Varnum v. Brien Iowa Supreme Court decision established same-sex marriage in Iowa, many supporters thought the fight had been won.

Robinson, of the Episcopal Church, thinks there’s a larger goal to strive for.

“There are still hearts and minds to be won,” he said. “Not everybody is on board with it. Just because some of these things have come to be doesn’t mean the work is over.”

Robinson gave a keynote speech at the Congregational United Church of Christ, 30 N. Clinton St., on May 4, capping a day of panels on the topic of same-sex marriage.

The panels addressed topics ranging from the legal issues behind same-sex marriage to participating in a congregation as a same-sex couple.

One of the panelists, Raven Rowe, said sexuality was not something to be kept in one’s private life and that when she mentions her wife to others, she’s never certain how they’ll react.

“There are a lot of people in our world that think sexuality belongs in the bedroom, but sexual identity occurs in our living rooms, our churches,” she said. “I’ve never apologized for my sexual orientation. Sexuality is not private for many people; coming out is something LGBTQ people do in their daily lives.”

Robinson said the struggle for gay Christians was especially difficult.

“It’s easier to come out as gay to straight people than to come out as religious to gay people,” he said. “The experience has been so harmful, so abusive, anyone who embraces both is kind of an enigma.”

Chuck Hurley, the vice president of the Family Leader, previously told The Daily Iowan that the organization remained opposed to same-sex marriage in Iowa.

“We will continue speaking the truth and love about marriage, because we love our children and grandchildren, and all the research across all political and cultural divide agrees kids do best when they have a mom and dad,” he said in an article published on April 4.

Kenneth Kuntz, a University of Iowa religious-studies professor emeritus, said the issues raised by the speakers were being addressed around the country and that churches had different ways of interpreting the Bible on homosexuality and gay marriage.

“Some mainline churches use a lectionary, with passages from the Old and the New Testament,” he said. “Some ignore the text and use commentaries on the Bible.”

Some have argued that certain passages of the Bible support opposition of homosexuality or same-sex marriage, but Robinson disagrees with that interpretation.

Robinson said words in the Bible had to be interpreted with the right context in mind, giving the example of baseball to someone in the year 3000.

“Our context changes; it’s culturally bound,” he said. “Without the context of baseball, the phrase ‘out in left field’ loses its meaning completely. We have to understand the context before we can understand those words.”

Robinson said the concept of sexual orientation was unknown in the ancient world and that the act of having homosexual relations was seen as going against one’s nature.

“You can’t take a modern-day concept and plug it into an ancient text,” he said.

Kuntz believes the path for acceptance of same-sex marriage lies with the new generation.

“I don’t feel every old person is conservative [on gay marriage], but as we go further into the century, you see people under 20 or 30 say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ ” he said. “As these people become 30, 40, their views are not going to change.”

Rowe also thought youth were more open to gay marriage.

“The young people get it, sometimes more than we do,” she said.

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