Tangled Up in Blue: More marriage resolutions and further thoughts

This is the twenty-sixth post in a series on resolutions for General Convention 2015. See also the index of resolutions and the list of resources related to #GC78.

wedding ringsAfter I wrote my first post on marriage, I found the conversations in the comments section helpful. Over on Facebook (have you liked Seven whole days yet?), I also found a number of conversations helpful, both in terms of helping me understand other points of view and in changing my mind of some issues. For those just tuning in, let me remind you that I fully support our church’s continued move to bless and marry same-sex couples. My only questions are about how to do that. Here are my hopes:

  • That we speak and deliberate in a gracious manner, praying for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in all things and recognizing that we are called to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
  • That we find a way to offer the riches of God’s blessing to all people who are called to marriage, working toward a single set of rites in our Book of Common Prayer for all marriages and blessings.
  • That we proceed in a way that honors our Anglican liturgical heritage and our own polity.

So to get specific, after some conversation with others, I continue to hope we authorize the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music marriage rites (found in the SCLM supplement to the Blue Book). There are a number of ways to authorize these rites, and I think I favor authorizing at least Form 2 for “trial use” as a potential replacement for the current prayer book services. This puts us on a path toward a single rite for marriage, and it acknowledges where we are headed. Our yes is a yes, indeed.

The “trial use” authorization could be effected in a way that requires the permission of the Ecclesiastical Authority to use the services, or it could be authorized for use within congregations without further recourse or consultation with one’s bishop. Form 1, could be authorized for “provisional use” which is kind of a made-up way of authorizing things we’ve used before, again either requiring permission or not. In our liturgical authorization, we need to remember that not all places in the Episcopal Church will have legal same-sex marriage, even if it becomes the law of the land in the US.

I do not think we should authorize these services apart from “trial use” because doing so puts us on a long-term course toward having a two-tiered set of marriage services with same-sex couples using a marriage service outside the prayer book that is “separate but equal.”

The Task Force for the Study of Marriage has also proposed a canon change. I’m a bit puzzled by it, because it is said that the canon itself does not change our doctrine or practice of marriage. Tobias Haller had a lengthy and generous conversation with me here and elsewhere online, and I now concede his point that the proposed canon does not itself conflict in any way with the prayer book doctrine or discipline. However, I’m not sure it makes positive change either. If the reason for the canon change is to prevent Title IV clergy discipline charges from being filed against clergy who perform same-sex marriages, it will not help, because the doctrine and discipline of our church with respect to marriage continues to state “one man, one woman” until such time as we revise the prayer book. (This is one reason I hope we adopt the materials as “trial use” or even Form 2 in a first reading of prayer book revision; to go on record as heading toward prayer book revision and thus an evolution in our doctrine and discipline.)

Moreover, the proposed canon change has some negative effects, in my view. Mostly, it strips away the language which refers to marriage as sacred. The term “Holy Matrimony” is not used, instead it’s the more generic (and quite secular) “marriage.” The canon becomes a rule about institutional marriage, with hardly a mention of God. Before the change, the canon requires a couple to sign a statement which says,

We, A.B. and C.D., desiring to receive the blessing of Holy Matrimony in the Church, do solemnly declare that we hold marriage to be a lifelong union of husband and wife as it is set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. We believe that the union of husband and wife, in heart, body, and mind, is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. And we do engage ourselves, so far as in us lies, to make our utmost effort to establish this relationship and to seek God’s help thereto.

Clearly, some amendment of this declaration would be required, at least getting rid of “husband and wife.” The phrase about children needs a look anyway, since many marriages will not result in the procreation of children, even if we weren’t talking about same-sex marriage. But all that said, I love that the current canon grounds marriage in the love of God and in our teaching about its purpose.

In the proposed canon, there is no similar declaration. Instead, the couple must “have been instructed by the Member of the Clergy, or a person known by the Member of the Clergy to be competent and responsible, in the rights, duties, and responsibilities of marriage as embodied in the marriage vows.” If we enter into marriage thinking only of rights, duties, and responsibilities, we won’t last long. The proposed canon does go on to say, “the covenant of marriage is unconditional, mutual, exclusive, faithful, and lifelong.” But even this offers nothing particularly Christian. Also, the proposed canon sets marriage in the context of just the vows, which are very brief, but one hopes that couples would be formed by the richness of the whole liturgy, not just a couple of sentences. Our current canon grounds marriage in the teaching “as it is set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.” We should, I think, do the same for all couples.

Our current canon and prayer book service together offer a rich theological tapestry that I believe can (and should) support both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages. At a time in which marriage is increasingly counter-cultural, I think this is not a time to pull back from our drumbeat that marriage is a gift from God and that it is a sign and sacrament of Christ’s love. Plus, I think it would make a lousy talking point to say, “Our marriage canon used to remind us about the love of the Lord, until we changed it to provide for same-sex marriage.” Instead, let’s retain the rich language to show ourselves and the world that it is one love of Jesus Christ which animates all Christian marriages.

I have been challenged to offer a better proposed canon, since I have voiced concern over the one that came from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. Rather than invent the wheel here, I hope we will pass one of the resolutions below which offer a revision of the current canon, preserving our current teaching on the nature of marriage but also expanding provision for same-sex couples.

As I wrote before, I’m not sure the canon change is necessary, because General Convention can authorize liturgies without this change. However, if we are going to change the canon — and there are some compelling reasons to do that, I agree! — than let’s do it in way that enriches marriage rather than diminishing our articulation of its blessings and promises.

Now, in all this, I do hope we will find some way to proceed with graciousness. There is a range of opinion on and experience with same-sex marriage. Too often in our conversations on marriage, we set up a straw person and respond to that person. Let’s try to avoid that practice, and instead listen to one another with care and grace, even as we disagree. I’m not sure how that will affect our deliberation, but I believe it is what we are called to do.

There is no question, I think, that this General Convention will provide for same-sex marriage in the Episcopal Church, and for that I am very grateful. This will be a gift to me as a person married (to a woman) for over two decades, and I know it will be a gift to many thousands of others who seek God’s blessing on their own marriages. What we can decide at this General Convention though, is how we expand our offering of God’s blessing. There are questions about the mechanisms we use to change canons and liturgies. More important, there are choices to be made about our speech and our listening. Let us, in all things, show forth Christ’s love.

With that very lengthy preface, here is my take on the marriage resolutions from dioceses. There are none from bishops, provinces, or deputies (as of now).

C007: Make Available Rite of Holy Matrimony. Full text. Likely vote: YES. but this won’t make it out of committee.

Here’s a short resolution, with only one resolve, “That the 78th General Convention take any and all steps necessary to make the Rite of Holy Matrimony available to same-sex couples throughout The Episcopal Church immediately.” As I wrote above, there is a 100% chance of General Convention making available a same-sex marriage liturgy for the Episcopal Church. So this resolution is likely to be discharged as “already acted upon” near the end of convention, once the liturgy resolution has been approved. I generally am not a fan of resolutions like this which express intent, but which have no other effect. However, should it become necessary to vote, since I do hope General Convention will proceed in this direction, I would vote for this resolution, if amended. It would require amendment because even if the US Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage to be the law of the land in the US, there are other nations where same-sex marriage is not legal. We simply cannot provide same-sex marriage in nations where it is not legal, so we have to be careful about using phrases like “throughout the Episcopal Church.”

C009: Make Available Rite of Holy Matrimony. Full text. Likely vote: YES. but this won’t make it out of committee.

See C007, above, which is identical to this resolution.

C017: Liturgical Marriage Equality. Full text. Likely vote: NO, because there are better resolutions on these topics.

This resolution would authorize the SCLM liturgical material and also says that gendered terms such man, woman, husband, or wife “shall be equally applicable to two people of the same gender, and all gender-specific language shall be interpreted to be gender-neutral, and may thus be modified as necessary for the purposes of the said Canon, and of the said rites.” It’s an interesting short-cut to just declare this, but I think we should take the necessary further step and provide new rites and amend old ones — and changes canons, if we’re doing that — to say what we are doing. I hope our yes will be yes with clarity. As for the first resolve, I’m not sure about the best way to authorize the liturgies, but as I indicated earlier, I think “trial use” is the best way to proceed, especially for Form 2.

C022: Amend Canon I.18 and Authorize Use of Liturgical Services. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

This resolution begins with the substance of C017 and continues to provide a revision for the marriage canon. As I wrote above, I don’t find it helpful to make declarations about linguistic gender in current rites. Instead, let’s amend our rites or provide new ones. Let’s bring our action into the light of day.

I do really like their proposed canon change, amending the current marriage canon to replace “husband and wife” with “two people” throughout, and adding some phrases to cover the circumstance that not all jurisdictions in the Episcopal Church will have same-sex marriage. The declaration signed by the couple is retained, and the canon continues to ground our practice in the language of holy matrimony. If we’re going to change our marriage canon, I think this is the way to do it.

C024: Amend Canon I.18. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This is just the canon change from C022. If we’re going to change our marriage canon, I think this is the way to do it.

C026 Amend Canon I.18. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

This resolution is identical to C022, with both liturgical authorization and a canon change. My response is therefore identical to C022, above.


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3 Responses

  1. “We simply cannot provide same-sex marriage in nations where it is not legal.” Is there a reason why holy matrimony cannot be solemnized without legal recognition?

    • Scott Gunn says:

      Good question. I’d personally prefer it if the church stuck to sacraments, leaving the state to the legal business of marriage.

      Others will be more expert than me, but I believe we have generally been blessing same-sex relationships where same-sex marriage is not legal, though I know there have been exceptions. I’m not sure what the numbers are. It’s also not clear to me what complications would arise if the church said it was marrying people who could not be married according to the state. All this said, one of the reasons I like the proposed canon from the dioceses is that it adds clauses such as “if the solemnization of Holy Matrimony is to have legal effect as a civil marriage…”

      I think the point I was trying (unsuccessfully) to make is that the situation may well be quite different outside the US, and we should not think otherwise.

      Thanks for your question. I’d be interested to know if this comment responds adequately to it, or not.

  2. Jon says:

    The proposed canon actually seems to agree pretty well with what the BCP identifies as the required core of the marriage liturgy. It’s also friendlier for interfaith couples than spending the liturgy and preparation time preaching one Christian understanding of marriage at the couple and/or wedding attendees.

    Perhaps I’m crazy, but it also seems like focusing on the rights, duties, and responsibilities embodied in the marriage vows is a great deal more helpful for having a long term marriage than spending that time thinking happy thoughts about God’s love. Don’t get me wrong, God’s love is a great and wonderful thing, but thinking about it is the least beneficial thing we can do with it or about it.

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