LOS ANGELES: Bishop authorizes blessings of lifelong covenantal relationships

December 10, 2008

Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles has authorized the use of a rite for the "Sacramental Blessing of a Life-long Covenant" for both same-gender and heterosexual couples.

The blessing "involves the exchange of vows between two people who make a public declaration of unconditional, covenantal love. This God-type love draws us all into the experience of God. It seems obvious that two men or two women are just as capable of making such a covenantal commitment of lifelong, God-like love as are a man and a woman," according to a policy statement prepared by the Bishop's Task Force on Marriage.

Delegates attending the 113th annual convention of the Diocese of Los Angeles, meeting at the Riverside Convention Center, received copies of the policy and a suggested order for the rite on December 5.

Bruno emphasized that the policy does not contradict California law, which currently prohibits gay marriage. He said it is also applicable in heterosexual relationships, and could also be used to bless the union of two senior citizens who are unwilling to risk losing Social Security or health care benefits by marrying.

"While the state will not allow us to officially marry same-sex couples, we believe the same blessing ceremony afforded to men and women should be afforded to same-sex couples," according to the policy, available on the diocese’s website.

At the same meeting, delegates overwhelmingly rejected General Convention (2006) Resolution B033, which called for "Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction [to] exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on the communion."

The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA and a member of the diocesan Task Force on Marriage Equality, praised the vote. "We are greatly encouraged that the Diocese of Los Angeles has taken such strong steps forward on the full inclusion of the LGBT faithful in the Body of Christ," said Russell, an associate rector at All Saints, Pasadena.

"The Diocese of Los Angeles cannot undo the discrimination written into our (state) constitution by Proposition 8, but we can now officially offer equality in the blessings we offer couples in our congregations. That is a source of great hope and encouragement not only to the church but to the world. This was my 21st diocesan convention and I've never been prouder to be an Episcopalian or a daughter of the Diocese of L.A," Russell said.

The task force was convened by Bishop Diocesan Jon Bruno after the California Supreme Court overturned a state law banning gay marriage. After contentious campaigning on both sides of the issue, voters in California passed Proposition 8, which amends the state constitution to establish that only marriage between one man and one woman will be legal in the state.

At the convention, Bruno urged supporters of Prop 8 "to recommit yourselves to the careful study and prayerful consideration of the faithfulness of monogamous, longtime, same-gender relationships among Californians, among Episcopalians in this diocese and beyond.

"I want to hear directly from you as you engage this process," he added. Mention of his opposition to Prop 8—along with that of other California bishops—drew sustained applause and loud cheers. Photos of same-gender couples married in Southland churches between June 17 and November 4 were displayed during the bishop’s annual address.

"While we work for justice, and to renew God's creation in this regard, we find that within the large tent of our Church, there is room for us to agree and to disagree with each other, yet to remain united in common prayer," Bruno said.

He said the "Sacramental Blessing for a Life-long Covenant" distributed to delegates adheres to previous General Convention guidelines regarding pastoral relationships within the local context.