By Kirk Petersen
After hours of sometimes wrenching testimony and debate, a General Convention committee has approved a revision of Resolution B012 that would ensure same-sex marriage rites are available throughout the Episcopal Church while postponing the emotional issue of adding the rites to the Book of Common Prayer.
The resolution revokes the authority of eight bishops to say whether same-sex marriage will be permitted in their dioceses.
It states: “Resolved, that all congregations and worshipping communities of the Church who desire to incorporate these liturgies into their common life … where permitted by civil law, shall have access to these liturgies, allowing all couples to be married in their home church.”
The resolution extends the trial use period that was mandated by the 2015 General Convention indefinitely, and specifies that the same-sex marriage rites should be considered as part of the comprehensive prayer book review that the same committee has also recommended.
The awkwardly named Committee to Receive the Report on Resolution A169 – CtRtRoRA169, or “Committee 13” – held two open hearings Friday that featured emotional testimony by dozens of witnesses. There was a symmetry to the testimony, with witnesses on one side saying the adoption of same-sex marriage rites is moving too quickly, while other witnesses said it was moving too slowly.
LGBT witnesses testified that they feel excluded from the church, while other witnesses felt the church is excluding people who hold the traditional view that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Controversy arose during the first hearing in the afternoon of July 5 when no arrangement had been made for a Spanish interpreter, even though the topic has aroused considerable opposition in Province IX, which encompasses dioceses in Latin America and the Caribbean. Other witnesses noted that there were no native Spanish speakers on the 27-member committee.
Volunteer interpreters were enlisted from the audience, which consisted of perhaps 300 people wedged into a room with a far smaller capacity. Every seat was filled, every wall space was a backrest for someone seated on the floor, and other observers were seated awkwardly in the middle of the floor.
The Bishop of Honduras, Lloyd Allen, was there along with a large contingent from his diocese. He rose to say that a staff member at the table turned to glare at him while he was translating quietly for a priest seated next to him. The staff member later apologized and said he had not been aware the bishop was translating, and he was distracted by the noise at close quarters.
“At this moment I do not feel welcome here,” the bishop said. “In Province IX, we have been treated in this church as second-class citizens.”
Allen repeated a warning that he and other Province IX bishops made before the convention: “If the church continues to change the prayer book and to play with scripture, it will be a time probably for Province IX, who are not welcome, to begin to walk apart.”
Same-sex marriage is not currently legal in Honduras and much of Latin America.
In the evening hearing, seven of the eight dissenting bishops gave testimony expressing various degrees of willingness to find a compromise solution. Notably absent was Bishop Ambrose Gumbs of the Virgin Islands. In a chance hallway encounter before either of the hearings, TLC asked Gumbs for his thoughts on an earlier compromise resolution. He said he believes if same-sex marriage is incorporated in the prayer book, it will cause more people in his diocese to leave the church “because they can’t condone this type of behavior.”
After a long day of hearings July 5, a few members of the committee worked into the night composing the compromise resolution. It is a new version of Resolution B012, which had been created by an ad-hoc working group that included Christopher Wells, editor of TLC, some of the dissenting bishops, and the bishops of Long Island, Pittsburgh, and Rhode Island.
Wells said the revised resolution is “no longer a compromise,” in that it removed any role for diocesan bishops in authorizing same-sex marriage.
The committee, consisting of representatives from both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, approved the revised resolution with one dissenting vote from a deputy. It now goes to both legislative houses for consideration.