Minnesota bishop sets process for same-sex marriage

Response comes on day governor signs new law

[Episcopal News Service] Some Episcopal Church congregations in the Diocese of Minnesota will decide to marry same-sex couples when a new state law goes into effect in August and some will not, and Bishop Brian Prior says that difference “represents the diversity and the comprehensive nature of who we are as Episcopalians and Anglicans.”

Writing on his blog May 14, a few hours before Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bills recently passed by the state legislature, Prior said that “for a number of our faith communities, this will now provide them the opportunity to provide to all of their members who desire to make a life-long, covenant relationship and to be legally married in the state of Minnesota to do so.”

“Other of our faith communities may not find this calling among their membership, within their context, or in culture – and will not be providing such services,” he added.

The new law includes legal protections for religious groups that do not want to marry same-sex couples.

Prior also sent a letter to diocesan clergy outlining a process for those congregations which decide to marry same-sex couples. He noted that those expectations are similar to the ones for clergy wishing to bless same-sex relationships that were in place when he became bishop in February 2010.

“From its very origins, the Episcopal Church in Minnesota has always stood with the marginalized,” the bishop said in a statement included in a press kit sent to leaders of diocesan congregations for their use if they choose to speak to the media about the new law and the church’s response.

“Race, ethnicity, gender, gender orientation or immigrant; we have embraced both the Gospel mandate of love of neighbor and the Baptismal Covenant imperative to respect the dignity of every human being. Any actions, whether sacred or secular, that prevent our LGBT brothers and sisters from exercising the rights and privileges that the rest of Minnesotans enjoy – are considered to be marginalizing and contrary to the Gospel, the Baptismal Covenant and our history.”

And, Prior told Episcopal News Service, the diocese’s stance means that those congregations that choose not to marry same-sex couples also cannot become marginalized. If they choose to exercise the exemption in the law, he said, “that’s fine and we can clearly support” their decision.

While Prior said he has not had a large number of requests for him to approve same-sex blessings, he knows that there are a “significant number” of people whom clergy report are waiting for the law to go into effect so that they can marry.

In his letter to clergy, Prior said those who solemnize the marriage of same-sex couples must use the liturgy found in Liturgical Resources 1: I Will Bless You and You Will be a Blessing. This is the provisional rite for same-sex blessings approved in July 2012 by the church’s General Convention.

Prior said in his interview with ENS that he made this decision, in part, because of the argument the marriage rites in The Book of Common Prayer were canonically intended for heterosexual couples.

The convention specifically did not authorize a same-sex marriage rite and use of the provision liturgy will be reviewed by the 2015 convention. At the behest of convention, a task force has begun to “identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage.” It will also, among other things, consider the church’s response to the changing legal context in which a growing number of dioceses are operating.

Minnesota is the first Midwestern state to change its marriage laws to allow same-sex couples to wed without a court ordering it to do so. The Iowa Supreme Court in 2009 ruled that that state had to allow same-sex marriage.

Last year Minnesota voters rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.

The state Senate passed the bill May 13 by a 37 to 30 margin, after the state House had approved its version on May 10.

Minnesota’s decision came days after Rhode Island and Delaware became the 10th and 11th states, respectively, to allow same-sex marriage. The bishops in the dioceses that encompass each state supported the enactment of the laws and said that their dioceses would respond in ways consistent with that support.

Same-sex marriage also is allowed in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia. Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington last fall supported changes to their state’s marriage laws. Thirty-three states prohibit same-sex marriage.

On May 10, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn called on that state’s House to approve a bill allowing same-sex marriage that the Senate passed on Valentine’s Day. Quinn said he would sign the bill into law.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two same-sex marriage cases. One challenges Proposition 8, the California referendum that revoked same-sex marriage rights in that state. The other challenges the constitutionality of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The court has not yet issued its opinion in either case.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Comments

  1. Doug Desper says:

    When did General Convention approve a change in canons regarding marriage? I don’t recall General Convention changing the canons to say that individual bishops can redefine marriage. This is all proof-positive that a Trojan Horse was voted in at the last Convention. There was never an intention to stop at a blessing of same-gender unions. Now the question is, does this violation of canons get the same dedicated Title IV consequences as is being used against conservatives who are accused of violating property canons?

    • Zachary Brooks says:

      If you had read the whole article before casting judgment, you would have seen that the bishop makes it very clear he is talking about the blessing rite approved by General Convention. The fact that his diocese, and indeed the entire Episcopal Church, is bending over backwards to ensure that conservatives don’t have to perform same-sex blessings is the tell to schismatic claims of canonical persecution.

    • Paul Rider says:

      Perhaps you missed these paragraphs:
      And, Prior told Episcopal News Service, the diocese’s stance means that those congregations that choose not to marry same-sex couples also cannot become marginalized. If they choose to exercise the exemption in the law, he said, “that’s fine and we can clearly support” their decision.
      While Prior said he has not had a large number of requests for him to approve same-sex blessings, he knows that there are a “significant number” of people whom clergy report are waiting for the law to go into effect so that they can marry.
      In his letter to clergy, Prior said those who solemnize the marriage of same-sex couples must use the liturgy found in Liturgical Resources 1: I Will Bless You and You Will be a Blessing. This is the provisional rite for same-sex blessings approved in July 2012 by the church’s General Convention.
      Prior said in his interview with ENS that he made this decision, in part, because of the argument the marriage rites in The Book of Common Prayer were canonically intended for heterosexual couples.
      The convention specifically did not authorize a same-sex marriage rite and use of the provision liturgy will be reviewed by the 2015 convention. At the behest of convention, a task force has begun to “identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage.” It will also, among other things, consider the church’s response to the changing legal context in which a growing number of dioceses are operating.

    • The Reverend Susan Russell says:

      I’m curious where the commentor got the impression there was any expressed intention to “stop at a blessing of same-gender unions.” Seriously. Advocates for the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments have been making the case — and not quietly, I believe it can fairly be said — that full inclusion means full inclusion. Since at the very least 2002 when the Claiming the Blessing Theology Statement was written. The liturgical resources adopted in Indianapolis in 2012 are certainly an important step toward that goal … but the journey continues.

      • Doug Desper says:

        Reverend Russell’s assertion that the Church must have “all the baptized in all the sacraments” leads to the question as to when LGBTQ communicants are denied Holy Baptism or Eucharist. Our catechism calls these the two Sacraments of the Gospel and they are not withheld. If she is referring to the other sacramental rites (marriage, confirmation, ordination, reconciliation, and unction) the Catechism approved by this Church is clear:
        “Q: How do they differ from the two sacraments of the Gospel? A: Although they are means of grace, they are not necessary for all persons in the same way that Baptism and the Eucharist are.” Are children allowed ordination? Do baptized adults receive confirmation as well as baptism? Since they do not can this be interpreted as withholding grace and proper recognition of their spiritual journey? Not at all. Likewise, the insinuation of unfairness and fellings of injustice cannot be used as a reason to change the nature of marriage. Ultimately one must be willing to trample the plain word of Scripture to change marriage. In Matthew 19 (Jesus quotes Genesis 2): “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?”
        So, the attempt to change marriage cannot be supported by catholic Christianity nor the plain words of Christ. The only leg of Scripture – Tradition – and Reason left is “Reason”. In the argument for changing marriage one can make anything seem reasonable to themselves. I, however, am not willing to stand before Christ and tell Him that His plain word on the matter isn’t good enough.

    • James Mikolajczyk says:

      Those of us who deal with regulations, laws, or canons all the time know that such things change according to context or paradigm shifts. For example, the U.S. Army dropped all of its Cold War doctrines and picked up General Petraeus’ COIN (i.e., counterinsurgency) precepts in their place after 9/11. A similar thing is happening in TEC because of its desire to offer a pastoral response to gays instead of degradation. Regardless of how we view homosexuality, all Christians should agree that gays should be treated with dignity and respect. Yet, that is certainly not what all Christians say.

      • Doug Desper says:

        James –
        I do not believe Jesus’s words in Matthew 19, where He quotes Genesis 2, are anything less than divine truth reiterated across generations. To believe that because “we” now exist on earth that all things can be relative to our paradigm or context is arrogance.

  2. The Reverend Susan Russell says:

    In point of fact, the current canons on marriage are inherently self-contradictory now that over 25% of Episcopalians live in states with civil marriage equaliy. Let’s review. The canons begin with:

    CANON 18: Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony

    Sec. 1. Every Member of the Clergy of this Church shall conform to the laws of the State governing the creation of the civil status of marriage, and also to the laws of this Church governing the solemnization of Holy Matrimony.

    … and then continue with a “check list” — which includes in (b) a description of marriage.

    Sec. 2. Before solemnizing a marriage the Member of the Clergy
    shall have ascertained:
    (a) That both parties have the right to contract a marriage
    according to the laws of the State.
    (b) That both parties understand that Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong.
    (c) That both parties freely and knowingly consent to such
    marriage, without fraud, coercion, mistake as to identity of a
    partner, or mental reservation.
    (d) That at least one of the parties has received Holy Baptism.
    (e) That both parties have been instructed as to the nature,
    meaning, and purpose of Holy Matrimony by the Member of
    the Clergy, or that they have both received such instruction
    from persons known by the Member of the Clergy to be
    competent and responsible.

    It can be argued … and indeed, is being argued … that Canon 18.2b does not proscribe that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman … rather it describes Holy Matrimony as “a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong” at a time when that was indeed the case. And it can be argued … and indeed, is being argued … that the values the make up the marriage transcend the gender of the couple committing to live out those values until death do they part.

    It can be argued … and indeed, is being argued … that the descriptive nature of the language in Canon 18.2b does not “trump” the instructive nature of Section 18.1 to “conform to the laws of the State governing the civil status of marriage” — and that bishops are operating within the spirit of the law (canon) when they authorize the clergy in their dioceses to stand on right side of history by offering equal blessing and equal protection to the same-sex couples coming to them for the blessing and solemnization of their civil marriage.

    All of this suffice to say there is plenty of work for the Task Force on the Study of Marriage to do … even as there are plenty of “happily ever afters” about to be celebrated in Minnesota, Delaware, Rhode Island, etc. etc. etc.

  3. Pete Haynsworth says:

    In Ms. YRussell’s comment above … “proscribe” would perhaps better be “prescribe”?

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