November 15, 2008

We Did

I am very happy to report that the following resolution was adopted today by the Episcopal Diocese of New York:

Resolved, That the 232nd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, in keeping with Resolution 15 of the 217th Convention of the Diocese, which made "known to the President of the United States, to the United States Senate and House of Representatives our support of full civil rights for all American citizens irrespective of sexual orientation," calls upon the Governor and the Legislature of the State of New York to ensure civil marriage equality in this state by enacting the necessary legislation to permit same-sex couples to marry; and be it further

Resolved, That copies of this Resolution be sent to the Governor, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly of the State of New York.

Many of us were wearing the "I do" buttons in support of the resolution, and an old friend from my days on the Liturgical Commission noted, "Tobias, you know it should say, 'I will.'" I responded, "No, this is what the Father of the Bride says...!" Touché.

In its explanatory material the proposers noted the 1976 General Convention resolution A-71, that "homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens, and calls upon our society to see that such protection is provided in actuality."

I was prepared to speak in support of the motion, stressing the importance of living up to our own promises, but the vibes in the room were rather positive, and no one spoke against the resolution; it carried by a large majority on a Yes / No hand-sign vote. Next steps: The state Assembly has voted to support marriage equality in the past, but the Senate, until a few weeks ago controlled by a conservative majority, has blocked action. The Governor has already indicated his support for this legislation. Many of us in the Diocese of New York, however, felt it important to let our electeds know that there is more than one opinion on this subject in the sphere of organized religion.

Tobias Haller BSG


June Butler said...

Tobias, that's great news! Congratulations and best wishes! It's a marriage of true minds, isn't it?

Leonard said...

Extremely nifty...thanks for the report.

I do too...and have.

Erika Baker said...

That is truly encouraging news!!

Erika Baker said...


is this the same convention that has had this terrible write-up (Sodomite" and "Nigger" Diocesan Convention Pt. 3 ) on ?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Erika. That is the diocese of Central New York. I'm in just plain old New York, the southernmost part of the state (including Staten Island but not Brooklyn or Queens which are part of the Dio of Long Island.) Thinks for pointing me to the site, however. I've read Muthah+'s comments but didn't have her blog on my blogroll, so now I've added Stone of Witness!

Anonymous said...

Hi Father Haller,

I am on one of the vestries that unanimously voted to list our parish as supporting the Resolution before it went to Diocesan Convention. It's great that it passed!

One question, though:

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 seemed to us that the Diocese wants the civil authorities to act to promote justice while failing to promote justice within our own institutional structures.

Or is there a prior resolution committing the Diocese to same-sex marriage of which I'm simply unaware?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Hi Stu, and thanks for the note. And to your parish for offering this support.

For me this is a question of 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 even the earliest church involvement was basically a blessing of the couple's civil marriage.

The second factor is theological: the church has long taught that "the ministers of marriage are the couple" -- that is, they minister the rite to each other, and the church only witnesses and blesses the marriage -- it does not "make" it.

Third is the legal principle that the church only "marries" people under law when such marriage is civilly valid. There is even a Prayer Book rubric to that effect, in the first paragraph on page 422.

Fourth, at the same time, nothing prevents a bishop from permitting the "blessing" of anything whatsoever within his/her own diocese. There was an affort to restrict this right at GC 206, 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 reviews every sermon a priest delivers -- preaching also being a "faculty" licensed by ordination.

Sixth, formal liturgical change should 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 is to be preferred to the top-down model for liturgical development. However, 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 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. It may well take a generation in the South. In the meantime, since marriage is governed by states, it will be appropriate for Geneeral 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. Louis Crew and I brought such a resolution to GC in 2006, and it will be back again in 2009.

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 mere blessings -- much as I support them, they are not the final goal.