Marriage-equality resolutions advance to House of Deputies

By Sharon Sheridan and Pat McCaughan
Posted Jun 30, 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.


Comments (9)

  1. Keith Aclin says:

    Deputy Katrina Hamilton of Olympia stated ““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.” Where does it say that all single persons must one day marry? No where that I can read in scripture does it state that. Scripture does state that secuxual relations are to remain within marriage. So if one wished to be sexual, one is to be married. The church has not bee slient on this topic (at least in my diocese it has not been). Now the National Church may be slient or some priest or bishops might be, but scripture has not been or is slient. This is a decision of some people where (it seems to me) that they wish the church to bless what scripture states is not blessable. Where people want their personal activities to be acceptible. However I do not see this as scriptural or part of tradition.
    Keith Aclin FL – LD 6

  2. JD Womack says:

    I need a little help understanding this statement:

    “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.”

    My partner and I live in a diocese where our bishop does not permit use of the blessing and openly said he would vote against this GC resolution. Does this mean our parish could exercise the use of this blessing even if the diocesan bishop said no?

  3. robert ian williams says:

    When Bishop Tuttle helped establish the Episcopal church in Utah in 1867 he lived among the Mormons with love and respect ( even recognizing their baptism), whilst holding firm to to the virtue of monogamous marriage. How ironic in the heart of this predominately Mormon state, the marriage canon was revised. A current statement by the Mormon hierarchy reaffirms that marriage is between a man and woman, but they don’t add polygamy is still the divine pattern in Heaven. Four of their current 12 Apostles who were widowers have married again, and expect to have both wives in Heaven.

    Interestingly Tuttle’s residence in SLC was next door to a Mormon bishop’s. One day a caller came to the door and asked to see the bishop. The maid servant replied he was out of town. The caller then asked to speak to the bishop’s wife. Being told she too was absent ( the caller thinking he was at the Mormon bishop’s house) asked , then which of his other wives are at home!

    The Roman Catholic Church does not recognize Mormon baptism as it deems the trinitarian words to be stamped with an heretical meaning, as the Mormons believe god is an exalted man. Similarly Rome rejected Anglican orders because the words of the Cranmerian ordinal were stamped with a ” native Protestant spirit. ” which was anti-sacerdotal. Will Rome now not recognize Episcopal marriage, as the Episcopal Church has seriously departed from a mainstream understanding of Christian marriage?

  4. stephen graumlich says:

    Was a separate vote cast for Resolution A054, or was there a single vote made for the combined resolutions (A054 and A036) at one time,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,that being the rolll call that was taken. If in fact there was a single vote taken for A054, I am trying to find out how my Bishop voted. Answers, comments,,,,,,,,,,suggestions????

  5. Roy Edwards says:

    ” and a canonical change to remove references to marriage as being between a man and a woman.” My friends, these words trouble me as a “cradle” Episcopalian. I have stuck with my Church through the very sad process of 8 parishes in Denver leaving what was then ECUSA to form the Anglican Mission in America, (AMiA). I followed a very dear friend, a graduate of ORU, who became ordained in the Episcopal Church prior to Gene Robinson’s ordination as a Bishop. When we formed our new, strip mall Church, the Vestry handed out forms for us to sign renouncing the Episcopal Church. I looked at my friend and said “no”, I’m not going to do this, we ARE ALL ANGLICANS! I stayed because I believe The Holy Spirit wants me to, perhaps to be an instrument of healing should that decisiveness happen again. I Love my Church, the people in it and our Convocation. In my Spiritual journey I have known many gay/lesbian Christians who Love Our Lord as much or even more than I do, Priests among them. And I support their unions!

    Why? well you would have to know my older half-brother was gay. We came from the same womb, he’s the one who bought me my 1st Lionel Train. But we lost touch because of his lifestyle, reuniting after Mom died. He never stopped Loving her and she never stopped Loving her son. And we got together, I learned much from him and I still Love him deeply even though he has passed. My Lord Blessed me with a heart that Loves everyone, at least I try to, but like most I have my peccadilloes.

    So this Canonical change bothers me as we seem to be moving apart from fellow Christians who hold their more Orthodox views on the definition of marriage. I once asked a (Lesbian) Priest if there was another term which could be used rather than marriage to satisfy the requirements they were seeking if it did so and was told no. I know my congregation and I am of the opinion if those reference are removed we just might lose people. I’m seeing liberal proposals coming out of this Convention which seem to paint “all of us” with a very broad brush. They insult me, making the assumptions that I am guilty of things I’m not, apologizing for me. So while I continue to Love all my friends, I have to say I’m not comfortable with this change or some of the things I’ve seen. Respectfully

    Roy PEACE

  6. Donald Haviland says:

    I have a question. My partner and I live in Albuquerque, NM. We have been planning our September wedding since January 1st. We were hoping that Father Christopher from our Parrish would be able to perform our wedding ceremony on September 6, 2015. Why are you waiting until Advent for this to become a reality? What is the purpose in waiting? I love my Parrish and have found comfort there many times. I was very blessed when God brought Father Christopher into my life. Though our wedding isn’t going to be held at St Marks I have been praying that Fr. Christopher would be performing our wedding ceremony. God Bless each and everyone of you for your prayerful consideration to this very important issue.
    Donald Haviland

    1. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

      Donald, some of us have been married in our dioceses, so there is some discretion involved. Could you ask your bishop? We used the I Will Bless You Liturgy from 2012. Our bishop added a line about it being legal in the state of Colorado and that was about it. Ask. I wish you success.


  7. Traci Alagood Gentry says:

    I was born into the Episcopal Church. Raised in it. Babtised and Confirmed there. My grandparents were founding members of our church. I have never, until this day, been ashamed of my religion. How is there even a vote for this?! What part of the Holy Bible, of GOD’s word, is unclear? How many will leave the church for this? How many will you lead down an unholy path? May God have mercy on your souls.

    1. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

      Well, Traci, perhaps the Bible is unclear to you. The NT “clobber passages” don’t mean what you think they do. Ezekiel and Isaiah say that the of Sodom and Gomorrah was harshness towards the vulnerable and stranger. Leviticus has a wide range of “abominations” that we no longer observe, like stoning women who aren’t virgins before marriage.

      I have to give you credit for chutzpah, believing you know for all people what is holy and unholy. Most of us find our relationships deeply holy, and I can’t imagine why you feel so certain about all these people you don’t know.

      Oh, and my 9th great-grandfather was a founding member of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, where many of our “founding fathers” worshipped. So apparently, pedigree does not automatically translate into people who can judge others so casually.

Comments are closed.