WASHINGTON: Priests may preside at civil marriages in D.C.

March 4, 2010

One day after same-gender marriage became legal in the District of Columbia, Diocese of Washington Bishop John Chane said March 4 that Episcopal Church priests in the nation's capital may preside at those marriages. "Through the grace of Holy Baptism, there are no second class members of the Body of Christ," Chane said in a news release. "We are of equal value in the eyes of God, and any one of us may be called by the Holy Spirit into holy relationships as well as Holy Orders." Under guidelines set by Chane and released March 4, no priest is required to preside at such ceremonies. Like some other Episcopal Church bishops, Chane already permitted the clergy in his diocese to bless same-gender relationships. He had previously said that the diocese had begun studying the church's canons to determine whether diocesan priests would be allowed to solemnize same-gender marriages and sign marriage licenses if and when same-gender marriage became legal in the district. The Episcopal Church's General Convention last July passed Resolution C056, saying that bishops, "particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church." The resolution also called for the collection and development of theological and liturgical resources for blessing same-gender unions for review by the next General Convention in 2012. The Episcopal Church does not permit its "Order of Marriage" from the Book of Common Prayer to be used in the marriage of same-gender couples. The church's Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music is expected to discuss that work at its meeting March 10-13 at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum, Maryland outside Baltimore. Chane's guidelines do not specify what rites clergy may use when officiating at a civil marriage. "I would prefer to work that out in consultation with the clergy who will be performing these services," he said in the news release. Under the Diocese of Washington's new guidelines: Priests who wish to preside at a civil same-gender marriage in an Episcopal parish must have the support of the parish's rector and vestry. Priests from outside the diocese are prohibited from presiding at same-gender civil marriage ceremonies within the diocese unless they are from a state and diocese that permits such marriages. Couples who reside in other dioceses may have a civil same-sex marriage performed in the diocese by a priest if such marriages are legal in their state, and their bishop permits clergy to participate in civil same-gender marriage ceremonies. "I hope that these pastoral guidelines will be helpful to the clergy that I serve as bishop," Chane wrote in the guidelines. "In the matter of how to engage or not engage in performing, witnessing and blessing same-sex marriages within the district, I respect the pastoral judgment and decisions of the clergy under my pastoral oversight." The guidelines are online here. At the District of Columbia's courthouse March 3, same-gender couples began lining up at 6 a.m. EST to apply for marriage licenses when the offices opened an hour later, according to the Washington Post. As with different-gender couples, the district requires a three-business-day waiting period before they may marry. The new law survived a required 30-day U.S. Congress review period. The Post reported that Members of Congress could try to block the district from implementing the law through its appropriations process, and the District Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on efforts to put the law to a public vote. However, on March 3 Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts refused to delay implementation of the law.