When we were discussing the resolution, some wondered why there wasn't a parallel resolution committing the Diocese to begin the process of creating a public rite for blessing the marriages same-sex couples.
It's a good question, and deserves an answer. I gave an answer in the comments below, but want to expand a bit here. I can best do this by offering what I planned to say in the debate if those of us planning the floor-fight felt it was needed. So here is what I was prepared to say:
I want to note that this resolution concerns civil marriage equality. It is not about Holy Matrimony. As such, it concerns the lives of thousands of New Yorkers, only a few of whom are Episcopalians, and many of whom may have no religious affiliation whatsoever.
So why should we make such a statement? I am reminded of the words of a great Archbishop [Temple]: The church is an institution devoted to the welfare of those not yet its members.
I also draw your attention to the language of the 1976 resolution of the General Convention [A-71], with particular focus on the words equal protection of the laws and provided in actuality. Thirty-two years later, we are being given an opportunity to answer the simple question, "Do you mean it?" And I close with the words of Christ: "Who among you, if your child asks for bread will give him a stone; or if he asks for a fish, give him a snake?"
So a major concern for me in all of this is the recognition that civil marriage equality concerns not just Episcopalians, but all the scattered churchless children of God who are seeking to establish their lives in stable and committed relationships, with all the rights and responsibilities they entail.
But, to get back to Stu's question, Why not matrimony? Here is my rationale:
- First, this is for me largely a question of sequence, a sequence which echoes the development of marriage in church history. Civil marriage comes first, then the church "adopts" it. As you may know, there was no formal "marriage" in the church until about the fifth-sixth century, and the earliest church involvement was basically a blessing of the couple's civil marriage, with particular prayer for safe childbirth. The earliest liturgies took place in the home, and only gradually moved into the church. So, as with evolution, "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" -- or something like that!
- The second factor is theological: the church has long taught that the ministers of marriage are the couple themselves -- that is, they minister the rite to each other, and the church functions as witness and blesses the marriage -- the church does not "make" it; the couple do.
- Third is the principle that the church only legally performs marriages when such marriages are civilly valid. There is even a Prayer Book rubric to that effect, in the first paragraph on page 422. So it makes sense to see the civil aspect established prior to the church acting as if it could perform the civil aspect of a marriage.
- Fourth, at the same time, and pending such developments, nothing in the meantime prevents a bishop from permitting the "blessing" of anything whatsoever within her own diocese. There was an effort to restrict this right at GC 2006, via a legislative moratorium on the authorization of same-sex blessings, but it was defeated in part because I rose to point out that this would require a Constitutional amendment, since Article X gives bishops this right.
- Fifth, also at the same time, priests are ordained to bless -- it is one of the "faculties" bestowed at ordination to the priesthood, and there is no "except" clause; the bishop need not ask clergy who or what they are blessing any more than the bishop need review every sermon a priest delivers -- preaching also being a "faculty" licensed by ordination. I realize we are getting into a bit of "don't ask / don't tell" here (for bishops who want to at least appear to toe the line drawn out by Lambeth and those Windsor folks; and yes, this is not an ideal situation -- but it presents a real opportunity for couples and congregations, and is in keeping with the 2003 GC resolution that acknowledged that such things were happening, and that those who took part were operating within the legitimate scope of action at their disposal. At least that is how I took the resolution.
- Sixth, formal liturgical change at the national level does need to be authorized by the church as a whole, even though individual dioceses and parishes can put into effect what I describe above. In fact, I think a bottom-up or grass-roots model for liturgical development is to be preferred to the top-down model for liturgical development. There was no "Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music" in the early church, and each national and local church developed its liturgies over time, with certain forms and prayers rising to the top by a natural process of recognition and popularity. However, in these latter days, liturgies only gain full status as "of the church" when recognized by the church in GC.
So, taking all of this together, I think we are proceeding in the proper sequence: work for the recognition of civil marriage equality first, at which point the church can then actually "perform" marriages (to the extent they perform them); and in the meantime continue to live in the less than perfect world of informal blessings, at the same time working for a full acceptance of such rites. If we time this correctly, the formal rites should be ready by the time civil marriage equality is a reality in most parts of the country. I realize this is a slow process; but it looks like the Northeast and the West will be there within a few years. (I expect a reversal in California.) It may well take a generation in the South. In the meantime, since marriage is governed by states, it will not be long before it is appropriate for General Convention to pass a resolution to the effect of permitting churches to perform same-sex marriages in states where such marriages are permitted under civil law. Such a resolution came to GC in 2006, and it may be back again in 2009. Even though I support the resolution, it is more to make a point than in hopes of its passage.
My point is that I am working towards what I hope will be true, full marriage equality in church and state. This will not be easy; and I think to an extent we cheat ourselves by "making do" with blessings of civil marriages and of couples who desire only that blessing -- much as I support them, they are not the final goal.Tobias Haller BSG
Update: A listing of all known relevant diocesan convention resolutions since 2007 is available at an Integrity-monitored site "Be It Resolved." I'm happy to see the pressure is building for marriage equality and an end to B033. An account from Lisa of the resolutions passing in Missouri is particularly heartwarming! — Tobias