Rhode Island Episcopal bishop backs state gay marriage bill

(Photo: Richard Schori)The Very Rev. William Nicholas Knisely Jr. during his Nov. 17 ordination as 13th bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island.

The Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island on Saturday announced his support for a House bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry.

Bishop William Nicholas Knisely of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, which includes about 50 congregations and 30,000 members, said he supports the marriage equality bill because of his Christian faith.

"The majority of Christians in the Episcopal Church have come to believe that it is possible, and even common, for two people of the same-sex to live covenanted, faithful lives together in service to God, just as people in traditional marriages do," said Knisely.

In a cover letter to his statement, he acknowledged that not all Episcopalians share his opinion but said they are still able to find unity in their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and in common prayer.

Knisely's endorsement of House Bill 5015 comes just three days after the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from both sides of the gay marriage debate. On the day of the hearing, hundreds of people rallied against the bill, saying God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman only.

The Rhode Island bishop, who holds degrees in physics and astronomy, said as a former scientist, he used evidence he witnessed with his own eyes to form his opinion on same-sex marriage. What he saw was good fruits from the lives of same-sex couples, according to Knisely.

"I have seen relationships that are loving, mutual, and monogamous and that have lasted a lifetime," he said in the statement. "Jesus tells us that we must test each tree by looking at the goodness of its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). Across our congregations and communities, I can see the goodness of gay and lesbian couples and their families."

The Episcopal Church has come far from the days of New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop. The Church has since allowed gay clergy and last year, approved a new rite that approved the "blessing" of same-sex couples in a monogamous, committed relationship.

Knisely, who was ordained as the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island last November, said gay and lesbian couples add to the "common good" of a congregation.

"The Episcopal Church has been blessed for many years by the life and ministry of gay and lesbian couples, both lay and ordained. I have seen how they contribute to the common good of a congregation and a community by creating stable, loving homes," he said.

"As a new citizen of Rhode Island, I am eager to see our state legislature join many others across the country in passing legislation to ensure civil marriage equality."

The House has yet to schedule a vote for the gay marriage bill.

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