[Episcopal News Service] Some Episcopal Church congregations in the Diocese of Minnesota will decide to marry same-sex couples when a new state law goes into effect in August and some will not, and Bishop Brian Prior says that difference “represents the diversity and the comprehensive nature of who we are as Episcopalians and Anglicans.”
Writing on his blog May 14, a few hours before Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bills recently passed by the state legislature, Prior said that “for a number of our faith communities, this will now provide them the opportunity to provide to all of their members who desire to make a life-long, covenant relationship and to be legally married in the state of Minnesota to do so.”
“Other of our faith communities may not find this calling among their membership, within their context, or in culture – and will not be providing such services,” he added.
The new law includes legal protections for religious groups that do not want to marry same-sex couples.
Prior also sent a letter to diocesan clergy outlining a process for those congregations which decide to marry same-sex couples. He noted that those expectations are similar to the ones for clergy wishing to bless same-sex relationships that were in place when he became bishop in February 2010.
“From its very origins, the Episcopal Church in Minnesota has always stood with the marginalized,” the bishop said in a statement included in a press kit sent to leaders of diocesan congregations for their use if they choose to speak to the media about the new law and the church’s response.
“Race, ethnicity, gender, gender orientation or immigrant; we have embraced both the Gospel mandate of love of neighbor and the Baptismal Covenant imperative to respect the dignity of every human being. Any actions, whether sacred or secular, that prevent our LGBT brothers and sisters from exercising the rights and privileges that the rest of Minnesotans enjoy – are considered to be marginalizing and contrary to the Gospel, the Baptismal Covenant and our history.”
And, Prior told Episcopal News Service, the diocese’s stance means that those congregations that choose not to marry same-sex couples also cannot become marginalized. If they choose to exercise the exemption in the law, he said, “that’s fine and we can clearly support” their decision.
While Prior said he has not had a large number of requests for him to approve same-sex blessings, he knows that there are a “significant number” of people whom clergy report are waiting for the law to go into effect so that they can marry.
In his letter to clergy, Prior said those who solemnize the marriage of same-sex couples must use the liturgy found in Liturgical Resources 1: I Will Bless You and You Will be a Blessing. This is the provisional rite for same-sex blessings approved in July 2012 by the church’s General Convention.
Prior said in his interview with ENS that he made this decision, in part, because of the argument the marriage rites in The Book of Common Prayer were canonically intended for heterosexual couples.
The convention specifically did not authorize a same-sex marriage rite and use of the provision liturgy will be reviewed by the 2015 convention. At the behest of convention, a task force has begun to “identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage.” It will also, among other things, consider the church’s response to the changing legal context in which a growing number of dioceses are operating.
Minnesota is the first Midwestern state to change its marriage laws to allow same-sex couples to wed without a court ordering it to do so. The Iowa Supreme Court in 2009 ruled that that state had to allow same-sex marriage.
Last year Minnesota voters rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.
Minnesota’s decision came days after Rhode Island and Delaware became the 10th and 11th states, respectively, to allow same-sex marriage. The bishops in the dioceses that encompass each state supported the enactment of the laws and said that their dioceses would respond in ways consistent with that support.
Same-sex marriage also is allowed in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia. Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington last fall supported changes to their state’s marriage laws. Thirty-three states prohibit same-sex marriage.
On May 10, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn called on that state’s House to approve a bill allowing same-sex marriage that the Senate passed on Valentine’s Day. Quinn said he would sign the bill into law.
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.