The acceptance and inclusion for all people is not new to the members of our congregation. However, in 2012 at the Episcopal Church General Convention in Indianapolis, the Church provided a provisional rite of blessing for same-gender relationships. In response, Christ Church initiated a process of discernment about whether, when, and how, to offer this service. The result was our first blessing of a same gendered couple, Donna and Caressa Rezsonya.
For the past thirty years, the Episcopal Church has been leading the way in helping Christian faith traditions welcome and include all. In 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.” The first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, was ordained in 2003, beginning great debate through the diocese, the denomination, and the Anglican Communion.
Our own discernment to offer same gender blessings at Christ Church also built upon a tradition of welcome and inclusion. Gay, lesbian and transgender persons have been welcomed and accepted at Christ Church for decades. Gay couples have been pictured together in our directories. Canon Gray Lesesne was the first openly gay clergy person at Christ Church. With our history it was natural to immediately begin discernment about the rite of blessing once it was available from the Episcopal Church.
Discernment began at the Dean’s Forum in the Fall of 2012. From the beginning our conversation was not about a particular couple but about the level of our commitment as a church. There was one moment that was especially critical to our reflection: We made a list of families in the Bible. Dean Carlsen says of this list, “Not one family on the list of families from the Bible was a “Biblical family” as defined by the opponents of gay marriage. In the Bible, God had blessed a startling variety of families. Why shouldn’t we, too?” After a time reflecting, the decision was made to go forward and offer this rite. There were differences of opinion on various questions, even some anonymous hate mail left on the altar, but leaders and members broadly supported the decision.
Christ Church Cathedral changed our wedding policies to include same gender blessings, using the same requirements as for heterosexual marriage. Caressa MacFarland and Donna Rezsonya were the first couple to seek this blessing of their vows. Caressa grew up at Christ Church and is the daughter of a current Vestry member, Audrey McFarland. On May 17th, 2014, Caressa and Donna were blessed at Christ Church Cathedral with their four children, family and friends.
Though their union had been blessed at Christ Church, they were not yet married. The law did not recognize Donna and Caressa as a married couple at the time of the blessing. This changed much sooner than expected. Just one month later, on June 25, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Young declared Indiana’s Defense Of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional and same-sex couples immediately began to secure marriage licenses. That very evening, Dean Carlsen and Canon Lesesne went down to the courthouse to officiate at the legal marriage of Caressa and Donna in the Clerk’s office, with Caressa’s mother listening in by conference call. It was the first same-sex marriage recorded at Christ Church.
We expected these marriages to be invalidated, but same-sex marriage was upheld under a federal court decision. At the 2015 General Convention, the canons of the church were officially changed to make the rite of marriage available to all people, regardless of gender! This is one way that Christ Church Cathedral is widening the circle of God’s embrace, with heart and voice.
We recently asked Donna and Caressa to reflect on their marriage.
How did you meet your spouse?
Donna: Online. Caressa answered a question I put on a mother’s website.
Caressa: We met online.
When did you know you wanted to be married?
Donna: I think I knew before Caressa. I realized that the kind of love we had for one another was so real and powerful. Just the thought of being without her makes it hard to breathe. That is when I knew I should put a ring on it!
Caressa: I knew I wanted to be with Donna but didn’t really consider marriage honestly until there started to be such a fuss about same-sex marriages. I kept thinking that I didn’t want someone else to make the decision as to whether or not I could marry the person I loved.
Why is marriage important to you?
Donna: I wanted Caressa to have all the rights I could give her for me, and our children, Walker, Delaney, Thomas and Samantha. Caressa knows me better than anyone else so if I can’t make my own decisions I want her to make them. I knew that there was a chance that Caressa wouldn’t have the right if we weren’t married. It feels good to know she is my wife no less than anyone else.
Caressa: Marriage is important because it says that we are taking this crazy journey together. I feel a sense of security and peace knowing that Donna has promised her heart to me. Having the same rights as I had in my first marriage to a man feels good. It feels the way it is supposed to feel.
What did it mean to you to get married in a church?
Donna: It meant so much to us. I know from my standpoint it was a dream come true. I battled with both religion and being gay my entire life. When I realized that God loves me for who I am, I wanted to shout to the world that I am finally happy with who I am. To know that the church, friends, family and God has your back about your relationship is truly a beautiful thing. I finally got my dream wedding with someone I am completely in love with. I understand what everyone was talking about marrying your best friend.
Caressa: My faith has always been the foundation for my life whether I am attending church regularly or sporadically, so being married in a church was a given for me. I could not believe that the Episcopal Church sanctioned a ceremony during our relationship. It was as if God said, “This is your time Caressa and Donna!”
What has marriage added to your life?
Donna: Marriage has added a sense of peace to my life. I’m part of a team. Caressa and I are strong in different ways. My weakness is her strength and vice versa. It just can’t get better than that.
Caressa: Without a doubt more kids! Just kidding! I think being married to Donna has allowed me to be the kind of person I wanted to be and knowing that I was still going to be loved. The kids were a bonus!
Why do you think there is/was such opposition to same-sex marriage?
Donna: Same-Sex Marriage is change. No one likes change. It is easier to judge someone else than to judge yourself. Ignorance of educating other cultures and lifestyles hold many back from seeing real love. To those who oppose same-sex marriage I say: come over for dinner! Because once they see that we are just like everyone else they will be more at peace with change.
Caressa: Opposition is often times based on fear. Fear is a powerful emotion and leads us in a direction that can be difficult to overcome. Society has always opposed things they do not understand. I truly believe that once the world sees that same-sex couples are the same as different-sex couples, things will be a little more relaxed. We go to work, take the kids to activities, pay our taxes, wash our clothes, cook meals, watch television, love our children and each other the same way that any other couple might.
Not only are we the same gender, we are of a different race. There was a time when that was also not accepted. We will continue to evolve and grow as a people which hopefully will decrease the opposition to whatever we don’t understand.
I pray that our journey offers something to the members of Christ Church. We are blessed and humbled to be part of this.