June 25, 2015

Thoughts on Marriage and the General Convention

Ed Palattella has a story at House of Deputies News titled “Same-sex marriage: Episcopalians weigh whether now is the time.” There isn’t much in this piece that is new, but I was struck by several points.

Consider this paragraph:
The task force also proposes that the canons retain language that allows any member of the clergy to decline to solemnize any marriage, and recommends that language be “extended to include the choice to decline offering a blessing on a marriage.” Those provisions have failed to allay the concerns of those who argue that that the group’s theological analysis was insufficient, that it failed to adequately consider the viewpoints of Episcopalians who support only marriage between a man and a woman, and that it did not fully study how the Episcopal Church’s amendments to the marriage canons might affect the wider Anglican Communion.
Was the task force’s theological analysis “insufficient”? I don’t think so. We have heard this argument for years. The fact is that those who “support only marriage between a man and a woman” will never be convinced by any amount of well-reasoned theological argument. The inadequate theology argument is only a tactic to delay change for as long as possible.

Marriage equality symbol
Is it true that the task force “failed to adequately consider the viewpoints of Episcopalians who support only marriage between a man and a woman”? I don’t think so. Those “viewpoints” are traditional and well known. There was nothing to be gained by reiterating them.

A related complaint I have heard often is that the task force did not really contain any members with traditional views on marriage. Perhaps that is true, but what difference would have a more diverse task force have made? Might there have been a minority report saying what we all know it would say? Would the presence of conservatives have weakened the recommendations of the task force? Perhaps. It is clear, however, that Resolution A050 was not about clarifying the church’s understanding of “traditional” marriage; it was about exploring the case for extending that understanding. It is for the General Convention to decide what to do with the case for extension, and, for that purpose, it is important that the task force offer the strongest case possible.

Finally, did the task force ignore possible consequences within the Anglican Communion? Again, I don’t think so. The task force did consult ecumenical and Communion partners, though that activity was limited by its meager $30,000 budget. Like the most conservative of our own leaders and members, some Communion churches, particularly those belonging to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, will go ballistic over any movement in The Episcopal Church toward the regularization of same-sex partnerships. But it is not as though we will be destroying strong friendships thereby. In fact, our moving forward on the recommendations of the marriage task force can have a beneficial effect on the Communion. Sympathetic Western churches, particularly the Church of England, will be encouraged to make similar decisions, and the persecuted LGBT Anglicans in Global South churches will be given much-needed hope.

Objectively, same-sex marriage has no obvious negative societal consequences, though it may engender irrational distress for some. On the contrary, it has many obvious societal advantages. Moreover, such marriages are increasingly accepted by Americans and are apparently accepted by a majority of Americans. If our church wants to be relevant to American life, it needs to get on board and provide appropriate ceremony and approval of major milestones in the lives of sexual minorities. There is only one compelling argument against doing that—that it is against God’s will. That case for that argument, however, is exceedingly weak and impossible to prove. It is time for the church to catch up with its social context, lest it become even less relevant than it is already.


  1. I have heard General Convention is considering allowing individual priests to decide whom they should marry, including same sex couples. I live in conservative Dallas whose bishop will always oppose same sex marriages. If this could pass, I believe priests at several large parishes in Dallas would perform same sex marriages. The bishop would be out of it in this case. Could this happen at General Convention?

  2. As of tonight, equal marriage is a reality in The Episcopal Church. It isn’t clear how this is going to work in dioceses like Dallas. According to the resolutions passed, bishops are protected from acting against conscience, but the right to marry must be available to all Episcopalians. Stay tuned.


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