Washington state’s two bishops support same-gender marriage law

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Feb 16, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] The bishops of both the Episcopal dioceses of Olympia and Spokane will make provisions for their clergy to operate within the state of Washington’s new same-gender marriage law.

Governor Christine Gregoire signed legislation into law Feb. 13. The law takes effect in June. Opponents of the statute have vowed to seek its repeal through a ballot measure in November that could delay enactment further or halt it entirely, Reuters reported.

The Olympia diocese will “accommodate” the new law “within its structure,” according to a statement made prior to the legislation being signed into law.

A short statement under the heading of “Marriage Equality” on the diocesan website notes that Olympia’s decision is “much as other Episcopal dioceses have in states where similar legislation has passed.”

Prior to the Washington bill becoming law, Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel had left it to individual clergy to decide whether to bless same-gender civil unions, according to the statement.

Rickel said in a blog post on Feb. 1, anticipating the law’s passage and enactment, that he supported the bill. He said that “fidelity is the value in most all our sacraments and also in our life as Christians” and yet “it seems to me we have held our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in a “’catch-22.’″

“We say they cannot live up to our value because they cannot be married, or even blessed in their union. While many of them have begged for this, it is still not possible,” the bishop wrote. “What they ask of us, the church and the government, is to put boundaries around their relationship, to hold them in the same regard and with the same respect, which would also mean that we expect the same from them. They are not asking for special treatment. They are asking for equal treatment.”

“They are asking to be accountable, as a couple, in community. To me, this is a conservative proposal. I am for it, and I hope we will finally make way for this to happen, not only in our society, but also in our church.”

Rickel predicted that the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, which meets July 5-12 in Indianapolis, “after a long discussion about this over the years is poised to do roughly the same” thing that he then anticipated the state of Washington doing.

In the eastern Washington Spokane diocese, Bishop James Waggoner Jr. said in a statement e-mailed to Episcopal News Service that he had “been communicating my support for the legislation through various channels within the legislative process.” He “welcome[d] the decision and am grateful that it recognizes the reality of relationships already being lived out faithfully and lovingly. The validation of legal status and related rights, including benefits, is overdue.”

He anchored his support for the new law in his sense that “support of faithful, committed, lifelong relationships in which two people are bound together by a covenant is consistent with the Scriptures in reflecting God’s action establishing a covenant with Israel (in the Old Testament) and in establishing a new covenant through Jesus (in the New Testament). This lasting and binding commitment is neither temporary nor casual. It is, rather, the means through which divine love is shared and experienced in the greatest depth and fullness. A holy calling.”

“Further, it is a gift that should not be withheld because of gender and that should be affirmed and blessed by the church,” he added.

“I am thankful that as we do so we are acting consistently with Jesus’ inclusive message and now in compliance with the law in Washington state. The legal question now decided, I will be working with a group of advisors in this diocese to set forth policies to guide the implementation of blessing these relationships within the church,” he said.

Waggoner said he wanted to “emphasize that I sincerely appreciate and respect the differences of opinions in these complex matters, and recognize the difficulties this recent decision creates for some” and asked that people hold in their prayers “those who struggle and those who celebrate, striving to be instruments of reconciliation for all.”

The bishop’s statement is due to be released soon.

The latest similar Episcopal Church responses came in June 2011 after New York enacted a same-gender marriage law and four of the six bishops in that state said that priests in their dioceses could solemnize same-gender marriages.

Under the Washington law, no church or religious denomination is required to marry same-sex couples — or anybody.

New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex couples to marry.

The signing of the Washington law takes place for Episcopalians against the backdrop of General Convention 2009 Resolution C056, which says 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 directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to work with the House of Bishops to collect and develop theological resources and liturgies for blessing same-gender relationships. A website here (http://www.episcopalarchives.org/SCLM) contains some of the gathered materials.

In March, the SCLM held a churchwide consultation on the issues surrounding C056. ENS coverage of that gathering is here and here.

And, in October the commission said that it would ask the 77th General Convention in July in Indianapolis to authorize trial use of a rite of same-gender blessing.

During that same time period the church also would reflect on its understanding of marriage in light of changes in both societal norms and civil law if convention agrees to a related resolution the commission will propose, according to the Rev. Ruth Meyers, SCLM chair.

“The resolution called for us to develop a liturgy of blessing and that is what we have done, but we realized there is great need for the church to reflect more generally – in light of changing societal and cultural realities, and a whole range of changes in civil law – on how we understand marriage,” Meyers told Episcopal News Service at the time.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (9)

  1. Sandi Blackaby says:

    I am so grateful that Washington’s Episcopal Bishops Waggoner and Rickel have voiced their support for our state’s recently passed Marriage Equality law. I am proud that our church has taken the stand to support equality in personal relationships to couples of the same gender. My prayer is that we will all pull together and respect differences of opinion on this issue, while allowing all people who love each other and wish to live in a committed relationship may have their union blessed by the church.
    Sandi Blackaby

  2. Michelle Smith says:

    It is progressive reasoning like this that I came into the Episcopal Church and found a home that was inclusive, loving, and could struggle through delicate issues within its family without hurting or ignoring. I feel blessed to be a part of an amazing state and more importantly an amazing Diocese that is leading and loving all its citizen and members.

    Bishop Waggoner once again your thoughtful comments brought tears as I believe you want to make this a blessed place for all of us and reminded me of my own commitment to my vows. Thank you and know you have a supporter and fan here in Ukraine and in my home church All Saints in Richland.

  3. Phyllis Albee says:

    Thank you Bishop Waggoner , Bishop Rickle and othert leaders of the Episcopal Church for your support of marriage for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. After being accquainted with a number of wonderful gay and lesbian people, I have long believed that homosextuality is not a choice, but is a natural difference between members of our human species. There are several examples of this in other animals and plants.
    Thank you for your love and courage.

  4. Dean Derby and Shari Corkrum Derby says:

    We certainly maintain the Christian credo to love one another and respect one another’s opinions. However, we think the time has long passed to express the other side to liberalism on at least one issue.

    First, let us say we intend to stay in our local parish of the Episcopal Church, in part because of tradition, many family generations attending as well as the many “blessed” and cherished items used during services (i.e.; the cross, the vases, the Gospel book in memory of family who have passed on, as well as the Sanctus Bells). That being said we do want to “stand and be counted”

    This current legislative action regarding same sex marriage, supported by the liberal left, is purely political. How can the state hijack this sacrament to use for the whims of homosexuals and lesbians who already have a process to gain the benefits of marriage? It seems like little kids on the playground: “I want what you’ve got”.

    We do agree with Bishop Rickel’s statement that fidelity is the value in our sacraments, especially marriage. However most, albeit not all, of the persons who appear on television and speak in favor of this legislation do not personify this virtue. Where is the separation of Church and State?

    At the heart of the issue for us is this – we were taught that Marriage is a sacrament of the Church and, whereas two people must get a “permit”/license to be married either in a civil or sacramental setting, how does a governmental law make it necessary for the Church to support that law? Why misappropriate the sacrament of marriage in the name of Christian mercy?

    Is there a fairness doctrine due here? Or is this “new”, less traditional, Episcopal church purely liberal with no intent to serve its moderate as well as its conservative parishioners?

    We regret the pressure put on us, and others of our more traditional parishioners to approve and support same sex marriage. We regret the response regarding the homosexual/lesbian same sex marriage issue moving through Washington State. We also regret the response to a request to march with/in support of the gay community in a local parade.

  5. Mary Beth Jorgensen says:

    This is just to remind us that the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane includes eight congregations in the Panhandle of North Idaho. The legislative scene in Idaho is substantially different from that of our sister state. I ask your prayers for our bishop and all of the congregations of our diocese as we go forward together in the coming months.

  6. Amanda Howe says:

    I feel like this is the same conversation that people, and Believers, in our country were having about miscegenation before every state had finally repealed these horrible laws, not so very long ago. Many at that time believed that God mandated exclusion and discrimination based on race. And I think that I speak for all loving Christians when I say that they were wrong. Plenty have found (what they believe to be) biblical support for racist acts and ideologies; does that make it so? Let not abstruse doctrine keep us from doing what is right. And there are many within the LGBT community who embody fidelity; just as there are many in the heterosexual–and Christian–community, who do not.

    “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.” Matthew 5:46

  7. Although my response may seem simplistic, it is sincere: “Jesus died for people, not for issues.”

    It is up to each and every one of us to accept — and be transformed by — God’s unconditional gift of redemption and love or not. It is NOT for us to sit in the judgment seat of Christ, who has not (as far as I can tell) delegated that role to others. Come Holy Spirit, grant wisdom, grace, patience and holy (agape) love to all your people, and especially those who struggle with the issues of the day.

  8. James Keith says:

    I believe it is time for the Church to regain its role and responsibility regarding the institution of marriage. These Bishops “accommodation” of these new same-sex laws implies they are simply tools of the state to perform marriages and act as if their hands are tied when it comes to marriage laws. The Episcopal Church, just as many other Christian churches have asserted, should clearly define its own traditional marriage practices without federal demands. What if society passes pro-polygamy laws in the future? Will we accommodate those laws as well?

    Let our government get out of the business of defining marriage for our religion and let them perform secular Civil Unions with tax breaks/rights to whom ever they want. We will perform our Christian marriages under our own definition like we should have been doing in the first place.

  9. Julian Malakar says:

    I wonder how we could say Saint Paul who transformed from enemy to slave of Jesus Christ by direct intervention of Jesus is wrong in categorizing same sex activities (not the person) as sinful in nature! No one who is in favor of amending The Bible to reverse the teaching of same sex activities have better experience with God than Saul of Tarsus later became Paul the Apostle. Change of spiritual teaching for the sake of changing world is like standing on sinking sands.

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