Dear General Convention,
Our names are Daniel Church and Jeff Sanders. We have been in a committed, loving relationship for nearly four years. We own a house. We have a precocious labrador named Biscuit. We have been members of Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas for almost two years. We elected to become members of Transfiguration not only because we loved the message, the music, and the people we met, but also because it was one of the few welcoming Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Dallas.
Both of us grew up in the Deep South where homosexuality was more often condemned than accepted. Daniel grew up in a liberal, and mostly welcoming, Methodist Church environment in Arkansas, but upon attending an Episcopal college, longed to join a denomination that better aligned with his progressive views and accepted him for who he was, an out gay man. Following college, Daniel worked as a missionary for the Episcopal Church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2012, where he was once again forced to hide his orientation due to the congregation and the diocese’s negative views towards homosexuality.
Jeff grew up in the Baptist Church in Louisiana and attended a nondenominational church in college in Alabama. In both settings, he was constantly bombarded with negative views towards homosexuality. By the time he finished college, he was convinced that there was no place for him in a Christian environment and elected to stop attending church. It was not until we began attending Transfiguration that he found the extension of solace and grace granted by an accepting and welcoming Church home.
Although we are not married, we hope to wed in a church environment that accepts our commitment for what it is: a marriage. In committing ourselves to each other for the rest of our lives, we seek to do so with the grace of God and the support and affirmation of our friends, family, and the Church. As lifelong Christians who seek to emulate our lives after Christ, we simply desire the same Blessing of Marriage that has been bestowed upon our heterosexual friends and family members.
When the Supreme Court decided in 2015 to make marriage equality the law of the land, the two of us were ecstatic. As we each made our separate journeys of coming out to friends and families, the prospect of being able to marry the individual you loved, especially in the South, seemed unattainable. So the court’s decision felt like a gift that we could not describe. Then, the joy of that moment carried over to the decision by General Convention a few days later to permit marriage in Episcopal churches, it felt like, for the very first time, our love was valued as fully equal.
But what became increasingly clear as time passed was that our diocese would not permit us or others to marry. It was disillusioning enough to make us question our decision to become members of the Episcopal Church at all. How could the Dioceses of Arkansas and Louisiana, in some of the most conservative states in the nation, accept our relationship, and yet our home diocese could not? We were deeply hurt and questioned the true intentions of many fellow congregations and our bishop.
With our experience, and the experiences of many of our friends at Transfiguration and elsewhere in the Diocese of Dallas, in mind, we simply ask that you vote to close the loophole that allows some bishops to strictly and absolutely prohibit marriage equality in their churches. Although we are certain that no ill will was intended by the decision in 2015, there remains a “Separate But Equal” system within The Episcopal Church. It is time that same-sex relationships in all dioceses be granted the same rights and blessings under the same God.
Daniel Church and Jeff Sanders