The Episcopal Church

General Convention 2012 Report II: Marriage

In the early 2000′s we started working hard to be able to bless same-sex relationships.   We wanted all of the sacraments of the church to be available to all of the members of the church.  At the time, marriage was not a legal option anywhere in the U.S., so instead we wanted authorization to have blessing services.  For me personally, living in the DOMA state of Idaho, legal same-sex marriage was inconceivable.  literally.  I could only concieve of same-sex blessings.

In 2009 we reached a milestone when we passed a resolution giving bishops wide latitude in allowing blessings to take place and asking our liturgical commission to craft a blessing liturgy that we could consider in 2012 (which we just approved!)  This was a very big deal.  The goal of same-sex blessings was in sight.

AND THEN . . .

A funny thing happened on the way to blessings.  Same-sex marriage became legal.  In 2009, the same year our General Convention met in Anaheim and we were only inches away from meeting our goal of blessings, the goalposts were moved.  Once we saw same-sex couples being married, it became clear that blessings were a poor, non-equal substitute.  What we were really talking about was marriage.

Now marriage is more complicated.  With blessings we are doing something new.  With marriage we are changing something old.  Not that we hadn’t changed it in the past, most recently allowing remarriage after divorce and, as a culture, interracial marriage.  But still, changing something as foundational and as old as marriage is a big deal.   And technically complicated.  Because our church constitution and canons were written in a time when opposite-sex marriage was normative, they contain “man and woman” language.  The same is true for the marriage service in our Prayer Book.  The Constitution and Prayer Book take 2 consecutive conventions (each three years apart) to change.

As we began to consider changing our marriage rite, and other documents, to allow for same-sex marriage, we realized that we needed a deeper study of marriage.  Marriage has changed dramatically in our culture.  Does the state mean the same thing by the word “marriage” as the church?  For us, it is a sacrament.  For the state it is a contract.  Marriage in our divorce-prone culture seems to have become a form of serial monogamy.   Do we, as the church, want to continue to be an agent of the state, solemnizing this contract?  Or do we want to have our own rite we can offer apart from the civil contract given by the state?  What can we do for older couples who want to be “married” by the church but can’t, for financial reasons, be married by the state.

The question of same-sex marriage has really forced us to do what we needed to do anyway, which is to take a deeper look at marriage, both in our culture and as a sacrament.  It is my expectation that the end result will include a rite for same-sex marriage, but it will also create many other possibilities as well  –  perhaps a rite for holy matrimony that is available to all couples and that is separate from the state’s contract of marriage.

In the meantime, the blessing rite we approved in Indianapolis can be edited by bishops so it can be used as a marriage rite.  Bishops do have the latitude in the blessing resolution we passed to allow their clergy to officiate at marriages.

As for the marriage conversation, here’s what we approved at the General Convention:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 77th General Convention
respectfully request that the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of
Deputies jointly appoint a task force of not more than twelve (12) persons,
consisting of theologians, pastors, and educators, to identify and explore key
theological and historical dimensions of marriage; and be it further
Resolved, That the task force work with Episcopal Church staff, and other experts
as consultants and coordinators; and be it further
Resolved, That the Task Force engage with the issues raised by changing social
norms and legal structures in American and other societies; and be it further
Resolved, That it consult with married couples, lesbian and gay couples living in
commitment or, where laws permit, in civil marriage – and single adults; and be it
Resolved, That in these discussions it consider perspectives from a variety of
cultures; and be it further
Resolved, That it consult with our partners both in and beyond the Anglican
Communion; and be it further
Resolved, That it deeply engage with the rich resources of moral theology in our
Anglican tradition; and be it further
Resolved, That it develop and design tools for theological reflection and norms
for theological discussion at a local level; and be it further
Resolved, that the Task Force report back to the 78th General Convention with
annual reports to the Executive Council; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on
Program, Budget and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $30,000.00 for
the implementation of this resolution.


General Convention 2012 Report I: Same-Sex Blessings

I did not have time during the Convention to blog as I had hoped.  My intention is to report on some of what I considered the most important aspects of our time together.  I’ll start with something I had been working on for years, the approval of same-sex blessings in our church.  Keep in mind that since the Convention only meets every three years, and only for a few days, our progress is always incremental.  That said, this convention’s actions were a milestone on our long journey.

I was surprised by how emotional I was when this finally passed in the House of Deputies.  It had already passed in the House of Bishops, so when we approved it, it was approved by the General Convention.  I had every expectation that it would pass, but when it finally did, I just wanted to weep.  This was a very big deal.  In the Episcopal Church, we express our beliefs in our liturgy, and to have an approved rite to bless same-sex relationships is a VERY BIG DEAL.

A pdf of the approved rite is here:  Liturgy revised 7-9-12

The resolution we passed was this:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 77th General Conventioncommend “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing” for study and use in congregations and dioceses of The Episcopal Church, with the following revisions: (I have removed the long list of edits to the liturgy.) and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention authorize for provisional use “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” from “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing” beginning the First Sunday of Advent 2012, under the direction and subject to the permission of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority; and be it further
The convention was presented a long document called “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing.”  This document contained theological resources, resources for preparing a couple for their rite as well as a rite to be used.  The first “resolved” allows congregations to use this resource.  The second “resolved” allows the liturgy to be used if allowed by the bishop.
Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-sex marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further

Resolved, That bishops may authorize adaptation of these materials to meet the needs of members of this Church: and be it further

Since we are in a state of flux in our church and our nation, there are dioceses with very different circumstances.  Some states allow same-sex marriage, others domestic partnerships, others have no provision to confer rights to same-sex couples.   Diocese within these states vary widely in their acceptance of same-sex couples.  These resolutions give all bishops wide latitude to allow, and modify, these rites for their particular circumstances.  While not explicitly stated, I expect there will be bishops who chose to modify this rite so it can function as a marriage rite.

Resolved, that the provision of Canon I.18.4 applies by extension to “Theological Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships,” namely, “It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to” preside at any rite of blessing defined herein; and be it further

Resolved, 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 conscientious objection to or support for the 77th General Convention’s action with regard to the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships; and be it further

I was on the committee that edited this resolution before it was considered by the Convention.  These two paragraphs were added in our committee.   They were added to help those who were uncomfortable with blessings.  The first “resolved” is simply a restatement of the policy we already have for marriage.   Clergypersons are free to decline to preside at any wedding.

The second “resolved” was submitted by my friend, The Rev. David Thurlow, from South Carolina.  He did not want there to be any repercussions for people who were not comfortable with the church’s approval of same-sex blessings.  There was a strong conciliatory mood on the committee (and in the Convention.)  We wanted to find ways to be gracious toward the minority who were uncomfortable with the direction we are heading.   Someone on the committee added the words “or support for” so the protection would also apply to someone in a conservative diocese who was in favor of blessings.

Resolved, That the theological resource for the blessing of a life-long covenant be further developed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music over the 2013-2015 triennium with specific attention to further engagement with scripture and the relevant categories and sources of systematic theology (e.g., creation, sin, grace, salvation, redemption, human nature); and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music include the work of diverse theological perspectives in the further development of the theological resource; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music develop an open process to review “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” inviting responses from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals from throughout The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and from our ecumenical partners, and report to the 78th General Convention.

These last three paragraphs point to the fact that our understand of blessings, and marriage, is in flux right now.   We are in the middle of an exciting time of growing in understanding of where the Spirit is leading us.   We passed another resolution about marriage that specifically addresses this.  I will write about this in another post.