[Episcopal News Service] The standing committee of the Diocese of Albany, the last remaining U.S.-based diocese in The Episcopal Church to prohibit same-sex marriage, announced on Nov. 1 that the ceremonies may proceed in the diocese, bringing the diocese into compliance with General Convention’s mandate to make marriage rites available to all couples.
“We seek the renewing and rebuilding of our diocesan community,” the standing committee wrote in its announcement, which quoted the 79th General Convention’s Resolution B012 and other church documents in explaining the committee’s decision. “We pledge ourselves to work with one another in a spirit of mutual respect in the midst of ‘theological diversity in regard to matters of human sexuality.’”
The status of same-sex marriage in the upstate New York diocese has been a point of contention ever since former Bishop William Love refused to implement Resolution B012, the 2018 General Convention measure aimed at ensuring marriage equality in all dioceses where same-sex marriage is legal. Seven other bishops who, like Love, were theologically opposed to same-sex marriage agreed to end restrictions on the ceremonies in their dioceses, through a process under B012 in which another bishop assumes any pastoral oversight that might be needed for the wedding.
Love was the only bishop who refused to implement B012, and a disciplinary panel determined in October 2020 that his refusal violated church canon law and his ordination vows. Love resigned rather than face further disciplinary action and joined the Anglican Church in North America.
Since Love’s resignation, the diocese’s standing committee has been the ecclesiastical authority while a search for the next diocesan bishop is underway.
In its Nov. 1 announcement, the standing committee – which has some new members as a result of elections at the Oct. 23 diocesan convention – said that “as a body” it is theologically opposed to same-sex marriage. However, in order to comply with B012 in the interim period until the election of the next diocesan bishop, the committee directed clergy who plan to celebrate same-sex marriages to consult with Assisting Bishop Michael Smith, whom the committee called in August to serve during the leadership transition.
Smith, previously bishop of the Diocese of North Dakota, was one of eight bishops who refused to allow same-sex couples to marry using trial rites approved in 2015 by the 78th General Convention. In 2018, he agreed to implement B012 in North Dakota by designating pastoral oversight to another bishop. Smith retired as diocesan bishop in May 2019.
The Albany standing committee, in directing clergy to “work out on our behalf the details of a Letter of Agreement for supplemental episcopal pastoral support,” is working within B012’s provision for another bishop to provide oversight for same-sex marriages, though it was not immediately clear what bishop would fill that role.
The diocese had been scheduled to vote at its Oct. 23 convention on whether to amend its canons that still prohibit clergy from officiating same-sex weddings (and the use of diocesan property for such weddings) and restrict ordination to people who are in heterosexual marriages or celibate. However, rather than debating the change, lay and clergy delegates voted 126 to 116 for a procedural amendment that said no canonical changes would be made at the online convention. The next time the diocese will be able to consider the resolutions is at its next in-person diocesan convention, scheduled for June.
Until then, the canons remain on the books. Some other dioceses – such as Dallas – also have similar bans on the books even though their bishops allow same-sex marriages.
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.