On Sunday, Episcopalian Bishop Walter Righter passed away at age 87 after a long illness. Let’s take a second to reflect on this controversial man of the cloth who challenged his church’s homophobia and look at what his legacy means for the gay community.
Back in 1990, Righter ordained a non-celibate gay man, Barry Lee Stopfel, as a deacon—resulting in Richter being accused of heresy for violating church doctrine. But a 1996 Episcopal Church court found “no doctrine prohibiting the ordination of homosexuals” and Richter was absolved. Afterwards, Righter famously told interviewers, “I think we’re making too much out of the bedroom.”
A year later an Episcopal church convention issued an apology to lesbians and gay men for “years of rejection and maltreatment” by the church. Now there are two openly gay bishops—Mary D. Glasspool and Gene Robinson (now retired)—and the church allows for the ordination of gays and lesbians in most dioceses.
If Righter, who was heterosexual and married, had not challenged church tradition by ordaining a gay man, the Episcopal leadership likely would have taken much longer to ordain a homosexual. The fact the church is expected to discuss same-sex unions at its next convention shows just how far it’s come in strengthening LGBT rights.
To get the support of more religious voters, we must defuse the myth that LGBTs stand in opposition to religion. Righter’s work within his church began the foundation whereupon we can build equality together.