Delaware, Rhode Island bishops welcome same-sex marriage laws

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted May 9, 2013

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church bishops of Rhode Island and Delaware both were active supporters of the legislative processes that led to those two states becoming the 10th and 11th states to allow same-sex marriage, and now they are working with their dioceses to respond to the changes in state law.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chaffee signed that state’s law on May 2. The law becomes effective Aug. 1.

“As a new citizen of Rhode Island, I am thankful to the state for passing a bill that provides the churches who wish it, the opportunity to minister in this way to the families and people in their congregations,” Bishop Nicholas Knisely, who was ordained and consecrated in November, wrote in a May 3 letter to diocesan clergy.

During the legislative process, Knisely commended the advancement of the bill in January and again in April.

Knisely said he would all allow same-sex marriages to occur in congregations where both the clergy and vestry are in agreement. “The decision to offer it, or not, is yours to make together within your church,” he told clergy in his letter.

A diocesan task force has already developed guidelines for responding to same-sex couples and, Knisely noted, the only change would be to substitute references to “same-sex blessing” with “same-sex marriage.”

He said he believes the law “protects the religious freedom of people with vastly different theological understandings of marriage.”

He also noted that not all Episcopalians agree on the issue, “but in the Episcopal Church we find our unity in common prayer, not in common opinion.” The church has learned over the years that it is possible and important “to protect the consciences of those who disagree within our church as we live together in community,” Knisely said.

Five days after action in Rhode Island, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed that legislature’s bill into law, allowing same-sex couples to marry beginning July 1 and eventually converting all civil unions in that state into marriages.

Delaware Bishop Wayne Wright, who took a stand for same-sex blessings when he was a nominee for bishop in 1998 and who testified before the state’s General Assembly in support of the bill, told Episcopal News Service that he was “really happy that we’ve come to this point.”

The diocese and individual Episcopalians, he said, have been involved in the issues of marriage equality for some time and he predicted “we’ll respond in positive way” to change in the civil context in which the diocese operates.

“For us this has been a long process of dialogue and study and, in some cases, respectful disagreement,” he acknowledged. “I’m very proud of the diocese and the people in it — the way they’re engaged in this.”

Because of that process, “our unity here is in our love from Christ,” the bishop said, and within that unity is room for disagreement about issues like this.

That dialogue and study will continue, he said.

Wright will be talking to clergy and lay leaders of congregations “about how we can best respond and support them in their pastoral ministries.”

“I don’t have kind of a pro forma answer today about that because this is something we’ll be talking about,” he said, adding that he had talked earlier that day with a couple of priests “about how we are going to continue the dialogue.” The bishop said the new law will also be discussed at an upcoming clergy day.

Wright estimated slightly more than a third of the diocese’s 37 congregations have used the provisional rite for same-sex blessings approved in July 2012 by the church’s General Convention.

Diocesan parishes have “the freedom to respond but also freedom to disagree,” he said.

The first civil union in the state of Delaware took place Jan. 1, 2012 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wilmington.  “It was a really happy day when that happened,” Wright recalled.

On May 9, the Minnesota House of Representatives was set to advance a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in that state. That state’s governor has said he will sign the bill if it is passed by the state Senate in a vote scheduled for May 13.

Same-sex marriage also is allowed in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two same-sex marriage cases. One challenges Proposition 8, the California referendum that revoked same-sex marriage rights in that state. The other challenges the constitutionality of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The court has not yet issued its opinion in either case.

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


Comments (27)

  1. Ken Thomas says:

    Your endorsement and approval of the latest affront to the Holy Bible is precisely why Christians have left the Episcopal church in droves. Being a fourth generation Anglican I am proud to say I am one of them who no longer was being fed the true Word of God and left seeking foundational doctrine elsewhere. The open arms policy of loving the sinner and condoning their sins they hold dear to is so hypocritical to the foundations written in The Scriptures for Christians to follow I had no other choice. I’m sure our Lord and Savior is saddened by your decisions. Galatians 1:6-10

    1. Anthony Christiansen says:

      I am proud of TEC for continuing the fundamentally inclusive thrust of the Christian message. From the Council of Jerusalem that discerned that Gentiles could be disciples of Jesus to our own time, when our church has courageously heard the Spirit calling for full inclusion of LGBT people who are already faithful followers of Christ in The Episcopal Church. God has won; love has triumphed. For those who’ve decided that they cannot live with differences in opinion and have decided to form new denominations based solely on not wanting to worship with people unlike themselves, I’ll continue to pray. In the meantime, HALLELUJAH!

    2. The Rev. Harry L. Knisely says:

      I could not disagree with Ken Thomas more. How long will it be before you are unhappy somewhere else. I wish you well, but I am glad that my cousin the Bishop is taking his stand in the Diocese of Rhode Island.

    3. James Mikolajczyk says:

      Statistically, most people who leave mainline denominations like TEC stop practicing any form of religion, much less Christianity. They generally become atheists and agnostics, not Christian conservatives. So you gain no victory from walking on our proverbial graves. In reality, we all lose people by not sticking to what Jesus taught and defending the dignity of all human beings. I say this to conservatives as well as liberals….

  2. John Schaffer says:

    I thought our General Convention allows same sex blessings; not same sex marriages. Why even have rules, regulations and canons if we don’t abide by them? It highlights our wishy-washy polity that we Episcopalians can do anything we want; except when it comes to money and property. Is this the message we want to send? This kind of thinking is not helpful.

    1. Thad Day says:

      It also is against the teachings of the Episcopal Church: “Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which the woman and man enter into a life-long union,… (An Outline of the Faith, commonly called the Catechism, BCP, 861) Also, “Christian marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God. (BCP, 422) But, when the “culture” speaks, what do the teachings of the Church matter, the Bishop just decides to “expand” the Sacrament, or the Sacramental Rite.

      1. Doug Desper says:

        Thad –
        No one believed that the revisionists in the Church were going to end with a same gender blessing that is not a fully sanctioned marriage. One priest even said that he wants the Church to “live with” this for awhile to see if we should have it. (No one hearing that believes that there will be any other choice). The goal all along has been to be the only historic catholic Church on the planet to redefine marriage. The Church’s official “study” of same gender blessings was partially influenced/supported by a secular gay advocate coalition – so the conclusion was settled. Conspicuously absent from that study is Jesus’ own words about the ideal/goal for marriage in Matthew 19 (where Jesus quotes from Genesis 2): “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? A peek into Church Publishing’s online catalog shows no substantial publication about Christian marriage as it is currently understood, but instead we find enriching titles for group discussion like “Radical Love – An Introduction to Queer Theology”, and “From Sin to Amazing Grace – Discovering the Queer Christ”. This Church’s leadership isn’t involved in a dialog with its own Church. This Church’s leadership is involved in re-education at all costs; including the ever-decreasing average Sunday attendance.

  3. Tom Blair says:

    This is the last gasp of a great civilization – celebrating selfish individualism, gratification of the senses, and its result – barrenness.

    Christendom is whimpering to its grave with the Episcopal church leading the way.

    1. Neil Cameron says:

      If, as you claim, Christendom is whimpering to its grave as a result of changes to the legislative framework of the governance of society, then you imply that Christendoms survival was reliant upon the continuation of the discriminatory status quo in the legislative framework.
      If Christendom is truly set to fall apart because society is changing the laws of man, then perhaps the foundation stone of Christendom has not been the rock of stability it has always been claimed it to be.
      The foundation stone of Christendom is not (and never has been) the legislative framework of the governments of mankind. I do not believe Christendom is threatened one bit by the legislative recognition of equal rights to homosexual people. I do feel, however, that there are many in Christendom who feel threatened, and I also believe that those fears are unfounded. If a Christian feels that their faith is completely at risk because of a law change, then I suggest that that christian’s faith is not strong to begin with.

    2. James Mikolajczyk says:

      I guess you don’t believe Jesus when he told us, “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Christendom cannot fail, even though denominations do all the time.

  4. Frank Riggio-Preston says:

    Pleased to see these bishops so supportive. Our Maryland Bishop was also very supported and authorized church marriages within minutes of us winning the referendum. Christ preached love and we walk in his way daily. Minnesota next week followed by Illinois.

  5. Pete Meggett says:

    At what point do we draw a line of what is right and wrong. I Have a homosexual friend that says that since Christ did not condemn homosexuality it was not a sin. Suppose that logic now applies to the convicted pedophile in NC that is wanting to be ordained, if Christ did not say anything about it being a sin it must be ok.


    1. Neil Cameron says:

      You can draw that line wherever you choose to draw that line. But once you have drawn that line, live by your own rules.
      And dont ever try to enforce your line on my life. I have drawn my line, I know where my line is. My line is drawn with the very principles of my faith at heart. It apples to me, and I will not force you to comply with my line. It is mine!

      1. Joseph F Foster says:

        Suppose you decide you want three wives?

    2. James Mikolajczyk says:


      It’s clear that you don’t know Jesus’ words very well. He did address pedophilia quite explicitly:

      “If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” -Mark 9:42-48, NRSV

  6. Ann Post says:

    I find it really ironic that a church founded on a divorce should be now have members who are so opposed to marriage!?

    1. Neil Cameron says:

      How does supporting the inclusion of same sex couples into the world of marital unions previously only occupied by mixed gender couples, qualify someone as being against marriage? I anything it extends the franchise to others. It opens it up to allow people who were once marginalized to come and join you. It opens the doors of the church to new members, who have historically felt that they were being turned away at the church door.
      Isn’t spreading the word of God as far and wide as possible, making it known to as many as possible, one of the foundations of faith?

    2. Thad Day says:

      The Church of England was not “founded” on a divorce. I recommend “A History of the Church in England” by JHR Moorman, “Anglicanism” by Stephen Neill, and “Anglican Theology” by Mark Chapman.

    3. James Mikolajczyk says:

      Anglicanism existed long before the Gregorian mission in the sixth century. The Catholic Church loves to take credit for Christianity in England, but there were diocesan bishops there as early as the second century. Just because a pope decided to “legitimize” what had already existed doesn’t mean it was Rome’s to keep.

  7. JOHN ROBERTS says:

    Why must people always say our Church was founded on a divorce? Scant reading of English Church history produced by Roman and Sectarian half truths.

    1. David L. Veal says:

      They must always say it because… 1)They are very ignorant people and/or 2)They are very hostile propagandists for another religious group that does not mind lying to promote their agenda.

  8. Philip Lowe Jr says:

    I am so very proud of the Episcopal Church for it’s support of LGBT people. The Rite that was approved in 2012 was to bless same-sex relationships. Whether they want to call them a blessing or a marriage makes no difference to me. There is no teaching in the holy Scriptures that forbids marriage between two people of the same sex. Homosexuality itself is not condemned in the Scriptures. In his book: Gay Unions in Light of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, Gray Temple states that sexuality in the Bible is not based on relationships, but based on acts of violence. The violence of men towards women. To dominate, own them and subjugate them. All other interpretations are based on Scriptural literalism, the invention of Christianists in the 20th Century that continues to make a mockery out of Christianity. Biblical literalism is nothing more than a conversation stopper, masked by out of control bad religious zeal. It is not based on Scripture, Tradition or historical fact. Inclusion, liberty, radical hospitality, healing and reconciliation was what Jesus was about. So should be the case with the Church.

  9. What I find here in Texas is that the church I serve is growing exponentially due to radical hospitality, a place full of love for everyone, no matter what their relationships might be. Yes, we have a few same-sex couples, but mainly we are gaining young, heterosexual couples with kids who have gay and lesbian family or friends. They all are tired of the discrimination they see in other churches. Our Bishop is moving very carefully and pastorally with the churches that want to do same sex blessings (it appears it will be a long time before Texas allows for same sex marriage) and each church is studying and voting on whether or not it feels called to participate in the rite.
    We (our church) started down this road when a 16-year old in a nearby community committed suicide and her obituary stated that her greatest wish was to find a church where everyone was welcomed. We chose to put the following on our sign: LGBTQ and Friends: Welcomed and Cherished Here. We’ve never looked back. These members are fully involved in all the ministries available to lay members.
    Jesus’ teaching throughout the Gospels is to love everyone, and care for everyone. That is what we follow, not Paul’s societally driven admonitions. Should all women cover their heads and never say a word in church? This is also what Paul wrote. I’m so very honored to serve God in this Church, and the people who come to this missionary outpost (that calls itself St. Paul’s) is a haven of love and caring toward all.

    1. Doug Desper says:

      I don’t see how acceptance and respecting another’s dignity can be equated with granting whatever is demanded. I find many examples of loving tolerance, long-suffering, and patient companionship in the Scriptures, but I can’t find one example of Jesus revising the Scripture because it did not sync with culture’s demands. Does that mean that those persons were stripped of their dignity, having just heard what they didn’t desire? Quite the opposite. Maybe that’s why he empatically asked – just to get through – “HAVEN’T you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” The answer is of course they had already heard it but they did not accept it. Isn’t that about where we are being led to now? Not an enviable place to stand.

  10. Pete Meggett says:

    I like how some in TEC are always talking about love and acceptance, yet then they turn around and treat those that have stayed true to the faith and gospels with such contempt. The fact that PB Schori has refused to even sale the church property to those who wish to leave is a great example of love and tolerance wouldn’t you agree. This love and understanding might apply to most segments of society and other religions such as Muslims; yet it does not apply to those who wish to follow the same doctrine that their church has followed for over 300 years. While the focus today seems to be about the same sex unions and homosexuals this is a cover for the true cancer that is consuming the church. It’s all a matter of do we see the Scriptures as Divinely inspired or not. If the scriptures are the word of God, some individuals that have led others astray will have to pay for their sins. If they are not the word of God why even attend church. I suppose we can approach this like Pascal’s Wager, if the revisionist are correct we will all be in heaven one day regardless of beliefs, but if the conservatives are correct, there will be a very rude awakening for a lot of people.

  11. James Cosgrove says:

    What great news! I was initially drawn to the Episcopal Church (from the Roman Catholic Church) because it is so much more humane and Anglicans tend to approach controversial subjects in a much more level-headed and rational way rather than with knee-jerk theology. To all of you who say that the Episcopal Church is declining because it is too progressive–wake up and smell the coffee. Conservative churches (like the Catholic Church) are also hemorrhaging members and people say it is because they are too conservative. The fact that all churches, regardless of progressivism or conservatism, are losing members is more a function of the general decline in religiosity in the USA than anything else. However, I think that the Episcopal Church has the best chance of all of them of recovering from that decline because it is a fundamentally welcoming and humane church, rather than a discriminatory “us vs. them” church like so many of the others.

    1. john neir says:

      Great post. And I second your thoughts.

Comments are closed.