|Deputies debate the authorization of rites for same-sex blessings.|
The House of Deputies overwhelmingly concurred with the House of Bishops who had earlier voted by a substantial majority to allow provisional blessings of same-sex couples in the Episcopal Church with 76% of the clergy and 78% of the laity in the House of Deputies voting in favor of establishing the rite. The bishops voted to authorize the rites 111-41, with three abstentions.
“For the church to say, ‘This is an active part of our life in ministry, and we support this,’ is an extraordinarily important step,” said the Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, President of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. Dean Hancock married her partner, the Rev. Mally Lloyd at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston in 2011.
The Episcopal Church becomes the largest mainline church in the United States to authorize the rites for same-sex couples seeking blessings of their unions or civil marriages. The denomination follows the United Church of Christ (UCC), which has supported same sex marriage since 2005.
“I believe the Episcopal Church will continue to evolve on the issue of marriage equality and look forward to joining our UCC brothers and sisters in being a headlight instead of taillight on marriage equality,” the Rev. Susan Russell, a gay rights advocate and Episcopal priest based in Pasadena, CA, said in a statement.
Currently gay marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia, with at least three more states poised to legalize gay marriage in the near future. Thirty states have constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and woman only.
Although Episcopal bishops are now able to publicly authorize the rites in their diocese, a “conscience clause” was also added that allows bishops to choose to refrain from authorizing the rites in their dioceses without penalty.
Twelve conservative and moderate Episcopal bishops released a “Minority Report” stating their opposition to the rites. “The liturgy entitled The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant, is for all practical purposes same-sex marriage,” they write in their Minority Report. “It includes all of the essential elements found in a marriage rite: vows, an exchange of rings, a pronouncement, and a blessing.”
“We believe that the rite subverts the teaching of the Book of Common Prayer, places The Episcopal Church outside the mainstream of Christian faith and practice, and creates further distance between this Church and the Anglican Communion along with other Christian churches,” the bishops stated.
They were joined in their opposition by the deputations of the both the Diocese of South Carolina and the Diocese of Central Florida.
This afternoon, the deputation of the Diocese of South Carolina walked out of General Convention in protest. "Due to the actions of General Convention, the South Carolina Deputation has concluded that we cannot continue with business as usual," they wrote in a statement. "We all agree that we cannot and will not remain on the floor of the House and act as if all is normal. John Burwell and Lonnie Hamilton have agreed to remain at Convention to monitor further developments and by their presence demonstrate that our action is not to be construed as a departure from the Episcopal Church," the deputation wrote.
Earlier this week the Episcopal Church voted to place no barriers against transgendered persons from assuming leadership positions in the Episcopal Church or from pursuing ordination as priests.
Now dipping below two million in membership, down from its peak of 3.6 million members in the 1960's, the Episcopal Church belongs to the 77 million-member Anglican Communion led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. Much of its membership is centered in the "Global South" of Africa and Asia where Anglican leaders have voiced concerns about the actions of the Episcopal Church.
Following the election of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson as the bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003, global Anglican leaders asked the Episcopal Church to initiate a moratorium on electing non-celibate gay bishops. The Episcopal Church agreed at their General Convention in Columbus in 2006 to the moratorium. But at the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim, CA, even with the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the church lifted the ban, allowing private same sex blessings at the local bishop's discretion.
The public rites for same-sex blessings will be available for use by December 2, 2012.
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