Bishops Reflect on Marriage
  • Thursday, May 10, 2012

From the Diocese of Connecticut [PDF]

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Ordained Ministry:

We, the bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, want to take the opportunity in this “Episcopal Epistle” to reflect with you on Christian marriage and, more specifically, how we are to understand pastoral and liturgical practices related to marriage here in our diocese at this particular point in time. The invitation for this reflection grows out of Resolution #6 — “Permitting the clergy of the Diocese of Connecticut to voluntarily officiate marriage of same sex couples” from our 227th Diocesan Convention in October 2011. We are thankful for this resolution and the opportunity to discuss our current understandings of pastoral responses related to Christian marriage.

The first resolve of Resolution #6 “urges the Bishop of Connecticut (and we understand the episcopate to include the diocesan and bishops suffragan) to acknowledge that there are people living in same-gender relationships of mutuality and fidelity who want to be married by their clergy…” We bishops know personally that there are good and faithful lesbian and gay sisters and brothers in Christ in the Diocese of Connecticut who seek to be married by their clergy within the context of their worshipping Christian community; and we give thanks for their faithful Christian witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The second resolve of Resolution #6 asks “that the Bishop of this Diocese permit the clergy of the Diocese to determine the appropriate generous pastoral response to meet the needs of the members of his or her own local eucharistic community, including officiating at weddings of same-sex couples, and acting as legal agents of the State in signing marriage licenses.” We very much appreciate the intent of this resolution. The Episcopal Church, however, has not yet embraced marriage equality for all people. In this The Episcopal Church lags behind the statutes of the State of Connecticut. More specifically, the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage service in the Prayer Book articulates that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that the union is between a husband and a wife. Similarly Canons 18 and 19 of The Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church: 2009 describe marriage as between a husband and a wife. All clergy, including bishops, have vowed “to conform to the doctrine discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church” as put forward in The Book of Common Prayer and The Constitution and Canons. We, as bishops, do not have the independent authority to change the Church’s definition of marriage as currently articulated in these documents.

We do believe that the current definition of marriage in our Church is oppressive to gay and lesbian couples who seek the same recognition and blessing of their relationships that heterosexual couples receive. This causes us great sadness, and we further believe that the Church’s position limits our witness to God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation for all people in Christ Jesus. Only the General Convention, however, can resolve this situation of inequality. It is thus beyond our power to give clergy permission at this time to officiate (in a legal sense) at weddings of same-sex couples and act as legal agents of the State by signing marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples. It is heartbreaking for us to have to say this, yet our understanding of our responsibilities as bishops lead us to this conclusion.

The 2009 General Convention of The Episcopal Church has passed Resolution B056 that says: “bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church.” At the present time, “generous pastoral response” in The Diocese of Connecticut is understood as allowing for the blessing of same-sex unions as best interpreted by the clergy and pastoral circumstances of a local eucharistic community. Priests, responsible for the liturgical life of their congregations, are urged to work with their lay leaders to establish parish norms and guidelines for the most robust and generous pastoral response possible for lesbian and gay Christian sisters and brothers seeking the Church’s blessing of their relationships characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful and honest communication, and holy love. These guidelines might include the services of a Justice of the Peace or other qualified person who can legally officiate at a marriage of gay and lesbian couples in the State of Connecticut.

Resolution B056 also asked the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of The Episcopal Church to develop theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same-gender unions and report to the 77th General Convention.We have seen drafts of the Standing Commission’s report both at our House of Bishops Meeting and at the recent Province One gathering in preparation for this July’s General Convention. We expect the 2012 General Convention to consider trial rites for the “Blessing of Same Sex Couples” as well as address the legal implications of blessings of same-gender relationships in states where marriage equality exists. We look forward to revisiting our diocese’s liturgical, pastoral and legal position on same-gender blessings and marriage in light of the decisions of General Convention this summer.

Finally, we would like to begin a discussion, in general, about the legal and ethical ramifications related to clergy of this diocese signing a License and Certificate of Marriage for the State of Connecticut. There are some in The Episcopal Church today who believe that the Church should no longer act as an agent of the state in any legal matters. They maintain that it is inconsistent for The Episcopal Church to claim “separation of Church and State” when it comes to matters of the payment of property taxes and at the same time act as an agent of the state in the signing of a License and Certificate of Marriage. Also, for the sake of justice, some clergy choose not to sign marriage licenses for heterosexual couples in order to stand in solidarity with our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers who are currently excluded from marriage in The Episcopal Church. Perhaps it is time for clergy of The Diocese of Connecticut to consider not signing a License and Certificate of Marriage for heterosexual couples married in the Church. This could easily be accomplished by inviting a Justice of the Peace to participate in the service and then sign the License and Certificate of Marriage. We look forward to discussing these ideas with you at the upcoming Clergy Conference, in clericus meetings, and in other venues.

We, the bishops of Connecticut, appreciate that we are living in in-between times with respect to the Church’s position on marriage equality. We hope and pray that the guidance provided in this “Episcopal Epistle” will give some clarity to clergy providing care to all seeking the blessing of the Pastoral Offices of The Episcopal Church.

Faithfully,

Ian, Jim and Laura

The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas
The Rt. Rev. James E. Curry
The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens

From The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. — Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop, says he is grateful and proud that Obama is supporting gay marriage.

Robinson said that the president is aligning himself on the right side of history.

From the Diocese of North Carolina

North Carolina voters have spoken, passing an amendment to the state constitution — called Amendment One — which allows that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be recognized by the state.” I, and many other bishops, clergy and laity from within the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, and faith leaders from many traditions, opposed Amendment One. I opposed it because I believe, as the scripture says, all people are created in the image and likeness of God and that all are therefore to be accorded the rights and dignity that befit a child of God. In like manner, those who hold a very different position are also created in that image — and deserve the same respect that befits a child of God.

My concern for the hurt and harm that this amendment may cause remains. That includes hurt and harm to unmarried victims of domestic violence, unmarried couples — gay or straight, senior couples and children. This must not be the end, but a new beginning to end any form of discrimination in the constitution of our state and to build a new North Carolina, where there is equality and justice for all of God’s children.

I am reminded of the words of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, speaking after his defeat for his party’s nomination for the presidency: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on. The cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry is the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.

From the Diocese of East Carolina

Dear People of the Diocese of East Carolina,

As you may know, the Bishops Diocesan of the three dioceses of The Episcopal Church in North Carolina recently wrote a letter describing the reasons for our opposition to the proposed addition to the North Carolina Constitution contained in Amendment 1. The referendum was held yesterday and the majority of those voting favored adopting the amendment. We are blessed to live in a nation that honors and values the right of each person to give voice to her or his beliefs peaceably through voting so that the will of the people might be known.

I remind us all that being part of a majority also carries with it a responsibility. One author put it this way: “The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.” [1]

Today, Bishop Marray and I write to tell you of our disappointment as Christians, bishops and citizens that the Amendment has passed. The as yet unforeseen consequences of its adoption will, we fear, bring unintended difficulties and pain to many law-abiding citizens of our State, both heterosexual and homosexual who are also faithful Christians, and to their children and families who may be denied health insurance, visitation rights, or legal protections from domestic violence, among other things.

Whether you voted for or against the amendment yesterday, we your bishops remind us all as followers of Jesus Christ, to whom we owe our first allegiance, that all people are loved equally by God as if there were only one to love. We remind us all that every person is created in the image of God and therefore worthy of respect. We remind us all that all people, regardless of race, sexual orientation, national origin or native language are welcome in The Episcopal Church and that in the name of Christ, we are called to offer hospitality to all. We remind us all that every person has an equal claim to the sacraments and pastoral care of this Church.

Every bishop at her or his consecration pledges to “…be merciful to all, show compassion to the poor and strangers, and defend those who have no helper.”[2] God being our helper, we intend to continue to strive to fulfill that promise we made years ago.

We pledge as your bishops to continue to pray, witness and work for the eradication of injustice and hatred toward others in all its forms, to strive to protect the dignity of every person, as we promise individually and as a community each time we renew our Baptismal Vows,[3] and to call all members of this diocese to work for justice and reconciliation.

We remain,

Faithfully yours,

Clifton Daniel
Bishop Diocesan, Diocese of East Carolina

Santosh K. Marray
Bishop Assisting, Diocese of East Carolina

[1] R.W. Sockman
[2] The Book of Common Prayer, page 518
[3] The Book of Common Prayer, pages 304-305

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