NJ bishops allow clergy to officiate at same-sex marriages

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Oct 21, 2013

[Episcopal News Service]  Same-sex couples in the state of New Jersey began getting married shortly after midnight Oct. 21 after the state’s Supreme Court refused to postponed enactment of a lower court’s ruling.

Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith said on Oct. 18 shortly after the state Supreme Court opened the door to same-sex weddings that he gave thanks for that action. He said he knew that many diocesan priests were preparing to officiate at those weddings.

Beckwith allowed Newark clergy to bless civil unions starting in February 2007 after New Jersey enacted a civil union law. His Oct. 18 statement listed his expectations for clergy who officiate at marriages.

In the Diocese of New Jersey, clergy were being sent a pastoral letter Oct. 21 from Bishop George Councell, who is due to retire Nov. 2, and Bishop-elect William H. Stokes, who will be ordained and consecrated that day, outlining guidelines for clergy who are asked to perform same-sex marriages.

“We are entering a new era in society and in the life of the Church,” said Councell and Stokes in the letter. “We have both publicly stated our clear support of this right for same-sex couples and rejoice at the court’s decision. Many same-sex couples have longed to have their relationships afforded the same civil rights and privileges as heterosexual couples. It is also true that many same-sex couples long to be married in the Church and to have the sacramental nature of their relationship acknowledged and blessed by, and within, the Church.”

Councell and Stokes asked the clergy to have “generous hearts” and to “honor and respect” for those who disagree with the court’s decisions and with the bishops’ decision to permit same-sex marriages in diocesan churches.

The bishops in both dioceses told their clergy that they should use the liturgy for same-sex blessings approved at the 2012 General Convention.

On Sept. 26, Judge Mary C. Jacobson of the State Superior Court in Mercer County ruled that if the state failed to allow same-sex marriage, it would deprive state residents of rights guaranteed them in June by the U.S. Supreme Court. She ordered the state to begin to allow same-sex marriage on Oct. 21.

Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom many consider a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, said he would appeal the ruling and asked the state Supreme Court to stay Jacobson’s ruling. He had said he wanted the issue put to state voters in a referendum. In February 2012, he vetoed a same-sex marriage bill passed by the state Legislature.

However, on Oct. 18, the court refused Christie’s request and the governor announced on Oct. 21 that he was dropping his appeal.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage. Thirty states ban such marriages and five allow civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships. More information is here. Only New Mexico has not enacted legislation allowing or banning marriage or other legal status. That state’s Supreme Court is due to consider the issue at a hearing Oct. 23.

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



Comments (8)

  1. Gretchen R Naugle says:

    Wonderful news–and I hope it continues to spread across the country.

  2. Doug Desper says:

    When did General Convention change the definition of marriage in the Canons, Catechism and Prayer Book? That did not happen at the last Convention. The authorization by Convention was to allow a blessing of same gender relationships. That has taken a draconian leap – by activists – to now mean priests legally wedding same gender couples. The absolute dishonesty of this is staggering, but not unexpected. Don’t expect any Title IV action, particularly since this doesn’t involve real estate.

    1. Don Caron says:

      Marriage is and will always be what it was: a relationship of committed mutual self-giving honored by church and state. The definition has not changed. What has changed is who may have access to that relationship.

  3. Doug Desper says:

    Canonical disregard to the meaning of marriage in this Church – such as what is being employed in New Jersey – only results in keeping the Church in chronic turmoil. If the wider Church lets this go on it contradicts any critique alleging “lawlessness” of the several departing dioceses who seceded due to their view of incongruence and canonical “cherry-picking” in the decision-making of the wider Church. Based on the Dioceses of New Jersey and Newark’s trajectory for 40 years they appear to be none too concerned about the niceties of such conciliar relations, self-restraint, nor retaining their own membership. Their statistics are hostile witnesses to how a pursuit of revisionism has emptied their pews.

  4. David Halsted says:

    The State defines what constitutes a legal marriage. The Church has acted as an agent of the State…as in “By the power invested in me by the state of __________, I now pronounce you Husband and Wife. The problem is that on this issue, Christ was pretty specific. (Matthew 19, 4-6)
    It is also not an anti/pro GLBT issue. In the same chapter of Matthew, I believe Christ tangentially addresses that issue with a great deal of delicacy.
    The Church always has, and always should bless loving relationships. I just do not believe, if we are followers of Christ, we should call these rites “marriage” within the Church.

  5. Doug Desper says:

    David —
    I agree with you about blessing a committed relationship, but not distorting marriage to accomplish that. The Church has for all of its history decided that difference, mainly by being faithful to the words of Jesus. When the dominant cultural expressions perverted the meaning of marriage, the Church continued to teach the Biblical design. If marriage is but a contract then that means that the Church is reduced to the mere chaplain to Caesar. Forgetting the legal contract, there is the sacramental nature of marriage that the Church was given as an apostolic teaching by Christ himself. Matthew 19 refers back to Genesis 2. This generation of Episcopalians has not found anything “new” which would require revision. Notwithstanding that, the older Prayer Books’ language on marriage have been tossed away as has the Scriptural basis behind the liturgy. God’s design in Genesis 2 has been distorted through many guises: marital slavery, multiple wives, chattel, etc. Each time these cultures have demanded some type of “new” understanding and have equally demanded religious consent to it. Our point of reference should always be that marriage is a sacrament referred to by Christ, and it’s not just an acknowledgement of an expression of love in this “new” time. I’m afraid, however, that each succession of General Conventions will have delegates who want to make their mark on the world — and I pray to God that they don’t smudge us all with the mark of Cain.

  6. Robert w. Scruggs says:

    Marriage between a man and a woman was originally defined by a “dominant cultural expression.” And this definition has achieved a validity. Why then should not the definition of marriage be re-defined or defined more broadly by a “dominant cultural expression.?” One has to wonder if some of the late-in-history strictures against same-sex unions were published by the hierarchy of the Church on earth to facilitate the propagation of the faith rather than from a Heavenly revelation. The Bible embraces male and female relationships which constitute a significant percentage of unions; however, it is unfortnately silent on the many types of social and sexual direction which are significant in number to be also considered as legitimate expressions of human interaction. The Church once posited that the earth was indeed flat,but that notion has been superseded; and in other areas of knowledge, there are discoveries which represent huge advances in the knowledge that was extant at the time that history yielded to the advent of Christianity.

    1. Doug Desper says:

      Genesis 2 shows that God defined the marital relationship of one man-one woman. Jesus quoted it in Matthew 19 as the desired standard. If we can’t see that then what else can be said?

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