General Convention approves marriage equality

By Sharon Sheridan
Posted Jul 1, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] In the wake of the June 26 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage for all Americans, General Convention followed suit on July 1 with canonical and liturgical changes to provide marriage equality for Episcopalians.

The House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops’ approval the day before of a canonical change eliminating language defining marriage as between a man and a woman (Resolution A036) and authorizing two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples (Resolution A054).

The resolutions marked the culmination of a conversation launched when the 1976 General Convention said that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the church,” said the Very Rev. Brian Baker, deputy chair of the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage. “That resolution began a 39-year conversation about what that full and equal claim would look like. The conversation has been difficult for many and painful for many.”

Resolutions A054 and A036 represented compromises reached after prayerful consideration and conversation within the legislative committee, and then the House of Bishops to make room for everyone, Baker said. “I know that most of you will find something … to dislike and to disagree with” in the resolutions, he said, asking deputies to “look through the lens of how this compromise makes room for other people.”

Deputies defeated an attempt to amend each of the resolutions. Following 20 minutes of debate per resolution, each resolution passed in a vote by orders. A054 passed by 94-12 with 2 divided deputations in the clerical order and 90-11-3 in the lay order. A036 passed 85-15-6 in the clerical order and 88-12-6 in the lay order.

Besides authorizing two new marriage liturgies, A054 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.”

Earlier in the week, the bishops divided the portion of A054 dealing with the existing rite from that addressing the new liturgies for the purposes of discussion, ultimately voting to approve both portions. They approved A036 in a roll call vote, with 129 for, 26 against and five abstaining.

“At my first General Convention in 1991, I don’t think I ever dreamed that we would have such a resolution before us,” Atlanta Deputy Bruce Garner said as debate began on A054. “I came to Salt Lake City a second-class citizen in my nation and my church, and I hope to leave here a first-class citizen in both.”

Among the dissenting voices was Holden Holsinger from the Diocese of East Michigan, a member of the Official Youth Presence, who urged defeat “in order to maintain the unity of the church.”

The two new 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, are authorized for use beginning this Advent. Those rites offer the option of using “wife,” “husband,” “person” or “spouse,” thus making them applicable for all couples. The liturgies can be found on pages 2-151 here from the materials provided to convention by the standing commission, including one rejected by bishops in their deliberations.

A054 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 their house 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.

Both resolutions say that clergy retain the canonical right to refuse to officiate at any wedding.

Resolution A036 revises Canon I.18 titled “Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony” (page 58 of The Episcopal Church’s canons here). Among many edits, it removes references to marriage as being between a man and a woman. The revised first section of the canon now says that 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 marriage. Members of the clergy may solemnize a marriage using any of the liturgical forms authorized by this church.”

Under the revised canon, 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.

The Rev. Joseph Howard of Tennessee said he voted for A054 “because I thought it was a statement of honesty about where the church is and that it regularized what we have been doing.” But he opposed A036 as “a vote against good order because I believe it assumes a belief that has not yet become clear in our church.”

James Steadman of Northwestern Pennsylvania cited the words of the post-Communion prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, telling deputies: “This is the time. Use the courage that you have prayed for all these years and vote for this resolution.”

In other marriage-related legislation, earlier in the week the House of Deputies approved Resolution A037, after several failed amendments, concurring with bishops on the continued work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.

The resolution asks 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), Baker told the deputies.

It also authorizes continued work of the task force “because the work is not done,” Baker said. It invites exploration of the cultural and theological diversity to move the conversation forward, he said, adding that too often the study has focused on an Anglo-Western perspective “when we are a church that has people from different nations.”

— Sharon Sheridan is an ENS correspondent.


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Comments (60)

  1. Paul Heymann says:

    I am gravely concerned about the vote in Salt Lake City.
    How can the sacrament of Holy Matrimony literally be stricken from the Book of Common Prayer?
    There was no advance discussion about this in the 2015 Diocese Council, nor in our parish.
    This will cost the Episcopal church dearly in controversy, dissent and loss of members. It will hasten – not slow – the decline in membership.
    This travesty will result in more children being denied their right and duty to honor their father and their mother – which is one of the Ten Commandments. By trying to be “inclusive” this vote excludes those who devoutly believe marriage is one man and one woman.
    There was a deliberate and open discussion process in 2012 about a trial liturgy for blessing of same sex couples. While many disagreed, it was at least to some, a reasonable effort to accommodate different viewpoints.
    The SLC vote is the exact opposite – it is forced upon the church body with no opportunity for review or dissent.
    The EC is under no obligation to follow the Supreme Court’s misguided 5-4 ruling, which takes 100 pages to ‘justify’. The EC does NOT need to “follow suit” as the website posting blandly states in acquiescence. Church and State are separate and this is a good example of why that is so.
    In fact, the Episcopal church should support natural law, God’s design, Jesus at Cana, and millennia of tradition. It should uphold the sacrament of marriage.
    What’s next – and do not think that it’s not coming – the liberals will want to remove the references to parents at Baptism.
    The SLC measure has a delayed implementation until the beginning of Advent.
    I request, pray and call upon the Presiding Bishop to suspend this Orwellian re-write of our church doctrine indefinitely.
    This is too important and fundamental an issue to be decided by a few liberals who wish to erase the institution of Holy Matrimony.
    Civil Union or blessing? Perhaps. Erasing gender from marriage? No. Striking out Holy Matrimony? NEVER.
    Let it be known that it will not be true that I left the Episcopal church. Rather, the truth is, that the church will have left me.
    Paul Heymann

    1. Bruce Garner says:

      There was plenty of “advance discussion” about these issues. They have been under study for the last 3 years. The Standing Committee on Liturgy and Worship and the Task Force on Marriage have been public about their work. The “sacrament” of Matrimony has NOT been taken out of the Book of Common Prayer. The various rites regarding both same sex and opposite sex marriage are part of the materials approved. And, quite frankly, this will enhance marriage by making it available to all. (Heterosexual marriage hasn’t done much for the institution anyway since the divorce rate hovers at around 50%.)

      The Episcopal Church has been studying and praying about this issue for 40 years, so it is not following any mandate of the Supreme Court. Few actually have studied marriage. It was not originally an entity of the church. There is no example of a marriage ceremony in Scripture. The miracle at Cana was about Jesus turning water into wine at the reception. So He did not hallow the rite. Instead He literally helped with the reception. The comment used is taken out of context anyway. If you read that Gospel you can tell that it was apparently “dropped” in at some point because it follows nothing that the narrative was saying. Marriage actually came into being as a secular ceremony to insure that property passed to legitimate heirs upon death. Men didn’t seem to be keeping their pants up and had children outside of a relationship to the point that it complicated inheritance. Marriage has always been to the benefit of men, never women. Remember in the ancient world a man was compensated if his daughter was raped. She was property and if she had been raped and was no longer a “virgin” he had damaged goods on his hands. The history of marriage is rather sordid if you research it. It wasn’t designed initially for the mutual benefit of the two involved.

      I would also note that, at least according to rather ancient teaching, there are only two sacraments: Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist. The others have been the result of votes by councils of the church as even Scripture as we know it was the result of a vote by a council of Nicaea.

      So rather than lamenting these actions, why not see them as a way of reaching others who could benefit from hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ? Why not see our actions as tools for evangelistic action?

      By the way, no one can be forced to officiate at a same gender wedding, just like no one can be forced to officiate at any wedding. There is, however, a requirement that where a bishop will not allow for priests to conduct same gender weddings, that bishop must arrange for a same sex couple who meet the requirements of the church, to be married.

      And really, this has been a topic of study and research and prayer since the 1976 General Convention declared gays and lesbians to be children of God….as if we were not already so.

  2. Julie Waller says:

    I’m confused. If the Episcopal General Convention approved marriage equality, why is it that the sacrament of marriage will be denied same sex couples in my diocese (Dallas, TX)? Should we as Episcopalians profess to have marriage equality when some are still denied the sacrament? If the Book of Common Prayer is revised will my bishop have the authority to deny permission to use it in the diocese? What authority does the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops have if a local bishop and/or standing committee can choose whether or not to abide by their decisions? I don’t mean to imply criticism. I am quite simply confused.

    1. Bruce Garner says:

      One of the provisions of the approval is that where an individual bishop or priest does not want to marry same gender couples, he or she is allowed that option. However, he/she must provide the couple with a way to be married. Keep in mind that even under existing canons, no priest or bishop can be required to marry a couple and they never have been.

  3. Seth Duncan says:

    Hmm I wonder how many will now leave the Church? It seems the Episcopalian Church is trying to drive the faithful away. There’s nothing left but ‘academics’ cashing in on the endowments, real estate, and assets built up by those who actually believed in something. No more. The Episcopalian Church is bound to be cut loose by the other Anglican branches and will be a faded shadow of what it once was. Nice buildings, empty pews.

    1. Bruce Garner says:

      I am inclined to think this will, if we are evangelical about it, bring people into the church rather than drive them away. Your comment about “academics” is disingenuous at best. We have many thriving dioceses and congregations. We grow, like any faith community, when we reach to serve the community around us. Jesus told us to go out into the world with the Gospel, not sit in our buildings and wait for the people to come to us. Since we literally created the Anglican Communion it is not likely we will be excluded from it. We are not the only province who has been moving in this direction either. The Anglican Church of Canada is close behind us and others as well.

      1. Doug Desper says:

        Bruce, facts are hostile witnesses. The truth is that our Church has been decidedly left-leaning (revisionist, avante gard, etc.) for well over 40 years. We have continually been on the hunt for “the new thing”. One would think that if there was going to be a massive influx that at least a trickle would be discernible by now. Instead, the Church has shrunk drastically – some have even said how great it now is to be rid of those contrarian conservatives “who held the Church back”. Now, the hostile witness of truth emerges and notes how since 2003 the Church has lost nearly a quarter million members. Five dioceses are gone with only tiny unsustainable buds left in their place. Attendance has augured into the ground over 40 years with not even half of us showing up on Sunday. Parishes closing, cathedrals shuttering, seminaries seeking a future, most of our churches unable to sustain a full-time clergy leader. Most of our churches now have less than 100 on Sunday. Please, do tell, when, oh WHEN will at least a trickle of new growth start after this 40 year progressive ride? It’s time to deliver on the promise of the direction taken. Forgive me if I am not too impressed about how further theological revisions will draw people in. It ain’t happening in any discernible way. Ignoring Scripture, Tradition, and most Reason to invent what Jesus didn’t think to and call it a marriage will not open the floodgates of happy congregants. It is past time to deliver on the promise of this liberal redirection of the Church. Long overdue. Now very costly.

        1. allen brady says:

          as far as this move helping grow the church. keep in mind gay couples will not be bringing future generations (children) to the church. they are 1 generation couples. where is the future in that? this will pretty much spell the death of the episcopal church.

  4. Robert Horwath says:

    I always said The Episcopal Church is what the Latin Church will look like in a 100 years with our women bishops, glbt inclusion all the way to the top, an ecclesial shattered glass ceiling, etc. God has graced us to model the future Catholic Church for all the other Catholic Churches…go Episcopal Church!!! You will earn a prophet’s reward…but in the end justice will have her day.

  5. Jullianna Martin says:

    It is said that pride is Satan’s favorite sin. But it’s really the pride IN sin is his most favorite sin. Sin doesn’t just suddenly stop being sin.

  6. Gary Barns says:

    This is the start of the great apostasy spoken about by many Catholic saints, people of same set attraction should be treated with human dignity yes but the church can not under any circumstances approve get marriage or even make a special blessing…this has been prophesied many times that even the Catholic Church would embrace apostasy and the Episcopal church is the first to do so. The bishops have put a lot of souls in danger by compromising doctrine, Christians need to be in the world but not of the world and we need to be dead to the world too. Our Christian Churches are now in God’s hands, I hope and pray that Christianity is still the same in another 50 years or so.

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