Marriage-equality resolutions advance to House of Deputies

June 29, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] Four days after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, the House of Bishops approved two new marriage liturgies for trial use and a canonical change to remove references to marriage as being between a man and a woman. The resolutions now move to the House of Deputies for approval.

The deputies, meanwhile, gave final approval to Resolution A037, which continues the work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.

If the House of Deputies concurs with the House of Bishops-amended Resolution A054, the liturgies “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage” and “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2” from “Liturgical Resources 1: I Will Bless You and You Will be a Blessing, Revised and Expanded 2015” from the supplemental Blue Book materials of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music will be available for trial use beginning this Advent. Those rites offer the option of using “wife,” “husband,” “person” or “spouse,” thus making them applicable for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

The bishops eliminated a third proposed liturgy from the resolution, “The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony.”

All three liturgies can be found on pages 2-151 here from the materials provided to convention by the standing commission.

The amended resolution stipulates: “Bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision, will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this church to have access to these liturgies. Trial use is only to be available under the discretion and with the permission of the diocesan bishop.”

The resolution also says “That bishops may continue to provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church.” During discussion, bishops said this was intended to address bishops’ situations in jurisdictions outside the United States, such as Italy and countries in Province IX, where same-sex marriages remain illegal.

The resolution extends the canonical provision to these resources that, “‘It shall be within the discretion of any member of the clergy of this church to decline to preside at any rite contained herein” and that “this convention honor the theological diversity of this church in regard to matters of human sexuality; and that no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her theological objection to or support for the 78th General Convention’s action contained in this resolution.”

Some bishops questioned whether this meant a priest could officiate at a same-sex marriage ceremony without consequence even if his or her bishop didn’t approve of use of the trial liturgies.

The provision is intended to protect clergy in a diocese where the bishop advocates for the use of the liturgies, replied retired Virginia Bishop Peter Lee. Clergy are protected if they disagree with their bishop, but not if they disobey them, he said.

The resolution also approves for continued use “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” from “Liturgical Resources I,” which General Convention approved for provisional use in 2012, under the direction and with the permission of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority.”

Bishop Larry Benfield of Arkansas raised a concern about having multiple marriage rites available.

“The committee is bringing forward several liturgies for trial use so that this church has an opportunity to experience them and to be engaged in conversation about our use of them,” replied Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont, who served on the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music and the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. “None of these become the authorized version of the Book of Common Prayer by this action.”

The bishops next debated and ultimately approved an amended Resolution A036 that revises Canon I.18 titled “Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony” (page 58 of The Episcopal Church’s canons here).

Among many edits, the resolution removes references to marriage as being between a man and a woman.

It also recasts the requirement in the canon’s first section that clergy conform to both “the laws of the state” and “the laws of this church” about marriage. The bishops’ amended version now reads clergy “shall conform to the laws of the State governing the creation of the civil status of marriage, and also these canons concerning the solemnization of marriageMembers of the Clergy may solemnize a marriage using any of the liturgical forms authorized by this Church.”

Clergy may “decline to solemnize or bless any marriage,” a provision similar to the existing discretion allowed to clergy.

Under the revision, couples would sign a declaration of intent, which the legislative committee crafted to respect the needs of couples where only one member is a Christian.

A resolution to substitute a minority report on A036 for the resolution failed.

“It’s time for us to do this,” retired New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson said before the vote. “It’s time that we declared how far we have come, and where we are at the moment and where we need to go in the future.”

Those opposing the canonical resolution included Bishop William H. Love of Albany.

“I think much of the argument has been based on all sorts of things in terms of our understanding of marriage and relationships,” he said. “Nowhere does God say that people shouldn’t love one another. … That’s not an issue. Nowhere does God say that two men or two women can’t share a life together or share a home together or be legal representatives for each other. The one thing that God seems to have spoken through Holy Scripture is that it is not appropriate to use the gift of sexual intimacy between a man and a woman” outside marriage.

Meanwhile, the House of Deputies voted June 29 to approve Resolution A037, after several failed amendments, concurring with bishops on the continued work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.

“One of the gifts that we as a church have received from our brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian is the invitation for us to study marriage, for us to study what marriage means for our time and in our day, and few conversations have garnered as much interest as our conversation on marriage has,” according to Deputy Brian Baker, chair of the special legislative committee on marriage.

He said the resolution does two things: it asks or requires congregations to study resources that were created by the Task Force on Marriage to help understand the theology of marriage and the long history of marriage, which are now available to congregations (beginning on page 9 here).

It also authorizes continued work of the task force “because the work is not done,” Baker told the house. He said the role of clergy as agents of state was not included in the discussion or only focus on the solemnization of marriage.

It invites exploration of the cultural and theological diversity to move the conversation forward, that too often the study has focused on an Anglo-Western perspective “when we are a church that has people from different nations,” he said.

Deputy Katrina Hamilton of Olympia told deputies she has been living in a faithful monogamous relationship for the past six years with her boyfriend but feels that the church’s silence about such relationships is “passive judgment.”

“We live together, we share some expenses and despite the admirable and laudable efforts of some friends and family I have no interest in having kids or getting married. While I know that could change one day, right now my relationship is not seen as having any independent worth only a precursor to something I don’t intend to do.”

She said that by the church only acknowledging one kind of family “we imply that others don’t count.

“In my Sunday school class I teach the kids that when it comes to sacramental rites all may, some should and none must. Right now it’s clear that when it comes to marriage we’ve acquiesced to secular society saying that marriage is ‘all must eventually.’ We don’t assume all lay people will be ordained yet we assume all single people will one day be married.

“It would mean a lot to me personally to have my life acknowledge if not accepted.”

Efforts to amend the resolution included a request that the task force consult with other churches in the Anglican Communion and with ecumenical partners, and also that a minority report be issued.

Deputy Zoe Cole of Colorado said she opposed the amendment because the bishops had already approved it and must have considered such requirements. Noting time constraints with finalizing legislation, she added that “we don’t want to play ping-pong. We want to pass resolutions and move on and do the business that our dioceses sent us here to do. So I urge my sisters and brothers, legislative restraint.”

The Rev. Ruth Meyers, a Diocese of California deputy, said that a year ago the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, of which she was the chair, hosted a consultation in West Missouri on same-sex marriage that included representatives of 24 dioceses of The Episcopal Church, six provinces of the Anglican Communion and five of our U.S. ecumenical partners, “all of them in civil jurisdictions where same sex marriage is legal according to civil law.”

The presiding officers and the secretary of convention were also present at that gathering, she said.

— Sharon Sheridan and the Rev. Pat McCaughan are part of the Episcopal News Service team covering General Convention.

Related Topics: