[Episcopal News Service] The bishops of both the Episcopal dioceses of Olympia and Spokane will make provisions for their clergy to operate within the state of Washington’s new same-gender marriage law.
Governor Christine Gregoire signed legislation into law Feb. 13. The law takes effect in June. Opponents of the statute have vowed to seek its repeal through a ballot measure in November that could delay enactment further or halt it entirely, Reuters reported.
The Olympia diocese will “accommodate” the new law “within its structure,” according to a statement made prior to the legislation being signed into law.
A short statement under the heading of “Marriage Equality” on the diocesan website notes that Olympia’s decision is “much as other Episcopal dioceses have in states where similar legislation has passed.”
Prior to the Washington bill becoming law, Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel had left it to individual clergy to decide whether to bless same-gender civil unions, according to the statement.
Rickel said in a blog post on Feb. 1, anticipating the law’s passage and enactment, that he supported the bill. He said that “fidelity is the value in most all our sacraments and also in our life as Christians” and yet “it seems to me we have held our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in a “’catch-22.’″
“We say they cannot live up to our value because they cannot be married, or even blessed in their union. While many of them have begged for this, it is still not possible,” the bishop wrote. “What they ask of us, the church and the government, is to put boundaries around their relationship, to hold them in the same regard and with the same respect, which would also mean that we expect the same from them. They are not asking for special treatment. They are asking for equal treatment.”
“They are asking to be accountable, as a couple, in community. To me, this is a conservative proposal. I am for it, and I hope we will finally make way for this to happen, not only in our society, but also in our church.”
Rickel predicted that the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, which meets July 5-12 in Indianapolis, “after a long discussion about this over the years is poised to do roughly the same” thing that he then anticipated the state of Washington doing.
In the eastern Washington Spokane diocese, Bishop James Waggoner Jr. said in a statement e-mailed to Episcopal News Service that he had “been communicating my support for the legislation through various channels within the legislative process.” He “welcome[d] the decision and am grateful that it recognizes the reality of relationships already being lived out faithfully and lovingly. The validation of legal status and related rights, including benefits, is overdue.”
He anchored his support for the new law in his sense that “support of faithful, committed, lifelong relationships in which two people are bound together by a covenant is consistent with the Scriptures in reflecting God’s action establishing a covenant with Israel (in the Old Testament) and in establishing a new covenant through Jesus (in the New Testament). This lasting and binding commitment is neither temporary nor casual. It is, rather, the means through which divine love is shared and experienced in the greatest depth and fullness. A holy calling.”
“Further, it is a gift that should not be withheld because of gender and that should be affirmed and blessed by the church,” he added.
“I am thankful that as we do so we are acting consistently with Jesus’ inclusive message and now in compliance with the law in Washington state. The legal question now decided, I will be working with a group of advisors in this diocese to set forth policies to guide the implementation of blessing these relationships within the church,” he said.
Waggoner said he wanted to “emphasize that I sincerely appreciate and respect the differences of opinions in these complex matters, and recognize the difficulties this recent decision creates for some” and asked that people hold in their prayers “those who struggle and those who celebrate, striving to be instruments of reconciliation for all.”
The bishop’s statement is due to be released soon.
The latest similar Episcopal Church responses came in June 2011 after New York enacted a same-gender marriage law and four of the six bishops in that state said that priests in their dioceses could solemnize same-gender marriages.
Under the Washington law, no church or religious denomination is required to marry same-sex couples — or anybody.
New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex couples to marry.
The signing of the Washington law takes place for Episcopalians against the backdrop of General Convention 2009 Resolution C056, which says that 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.”
The resolution directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to work with the House of Bishops to collect and develop theological resources and liturgies for blessing same-gender relationships. A website here (http://www.episcopalarchives.org/SCLM) contains some of the gathered materials.
And, in October the commission said that it would ask the 77th General Convention in July in Indianapolis to authorize trial use of a rite of same-gender blessing.
During that same time period the church also would reflect on its understanding of marriage in light of changes in both societal norms and civil law if convention agrees to a related resolution the commission will propose, according to the Rev. Ruth Meyers, SCLM chair.
“The resolution called for us to develop a liturgy of blessing and that is what we have done, but we realized there is great need for the church to reflect more generally – in light of changing societal and cultural realities, and a whole range of changes in civil law – on how we understand marriage,” Meyers told Episcopal News Service at the time.
— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.