This entry was originally posted June 25, 2009 as part of the website “Slouching Towards Anaheim.”
“Don’t stir the pot if you don’t know the recipe.” -Pete Strimer
So far, there are at least 11 resolutions on the subject of Same Sex Blessings and Marriages. All of these resolutions are C Resolutions, meaning they come from a diocese or a group of some kind (as opposed to an individual deputy or bishop). Up until this point, the Episcopal Church has maintained a policy of “never authorized, never prohibited” on the subject. This means that it is up to individual bishops in their own dioceses to decide whether or not to bless same sex marriages. This policy is actually rather fitting with the general attitude of the Episcopal church, which respects the differing opinions of its members.
It should be made clear that there is a difference between blessings of same sex unions and same sex marriages, and there are separate resolutions on each. Resolutions on blessings fall into two categories: 1) resolutions stating that there should be no restrictions on a bishop’s authority to use such rite, and 2) authorizing the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to create such rites. The first would support the policies that have been in place, the second would fully legitimize Episcopal blessings of same sex unions by giving them an official service to conduct.
The marriage resolutions also fall into two similar categories. The first ask for an amendment to the marriage canons, the second ask the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop gender-neutral language for the existing marriage rites.
The problem is that currently none of the resolutions for either blessings or marriages ask for changes in the canons AND the prayer book. Having contradictions between the canons and the prayer book would weaken the issue, like telling the police to enforce different laws than are set up in the constitution.
My personal conviction is that the Episcopal Church should establish some form of official same sex marriage rites. However I worry about the politicking that could muddy up the issue. For example, there is not clear consensus as to whether we should be approving the blessing of unions or full inclusion into the sacrament of marriage. Obviously the United States has not come to a clear decision, which is certainly part of the problem. How does a couple respond if their state says they should be married and their church says they have a union? It seems like semantics but disregarding such distinctions allows a loophole for “separate but equal” thinking.
A huge part of the problem is the response from the Anglican Communion on the issue. There has been a lot of formal and informal pressure from the Communion in the last several years to slow down, if not stop, actions that would lead to full and equal inclusion of homosexuals into all parts of the church. Many worry that passing these kinds of resolutions at this time would show a disregard for our Anglican sisters and brothers, and further “strain the bonds of affection” between us. The painful fact is that for the Episcopal Church, there are consequences to approving any sort of homosexual unions or marriages. I believe this is a huge part of why we do not have any sort of united front on this issues, and why the proposed resolutions seem incomplete and contradictory.
Hopefully, by the time these resolutions get out of committee and onto the convention floor they will have been combined into a clearer, more complete resolution. The likelihood of that resolution getting approved is still slim, both because of theological differences in the church and concern over the reactions in the Anglican Communion.
I agree that we should show understanding towards the other Anglican churches who oppose homosexuality, but I also believe that if “understanding” means denying rights and sacraments to any of God’s children out of fear than this is not a communion but an oligarchy. For now, I think we are just bidding time, waiting for more people to come around and for the decision to be made easier. It is possible that this is how this must be done: carefully, slowly, and methodically. After all, if we do something drastic enough to cut ourselves off from the Anglican Communion, we will have ended all conversation on the issue, and I do not think that is healthy for either side.