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On the fifth day of The Episcopal Church’s General Convention, the House of Bishops voted 111 to 41 to approve the draft liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions.
Resolution A049 would not actually allow same-sex couple to marry, but would allow them to have their relationship blessed using a service known as “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant.”
Before it went to the House of Bishops, the Resolution was considered by the Committee on the Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Church Music, where it underwent substantial amendment. Most of the amendments were minor tweaks to the wording of the liturgy, but the committee also included a new clause specifying that Episcopal clergy would not be compelled to use the rite. Furthermore, it also declared that no bishop, member of the clergy, or lay person could be penalized because of their conscientious disagreement with the decision to bless same-sex unions.
During his introductory remarks on the resolution, the co-chair of the Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Church Music Committee, Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont, said that “there is a place in this process for every Episcopalian regardless of their level of support for the material. Read it. Reflect upon it. Use it, but please don’t ignore it.”
Bishop John Bauerschmidt of Tennessee demanded a roll call vote, and called on the House to reject the resolution. “This liturgy that is proposed does not have the basis in scripture, tradition or reason for us to authorize its use.”
His remarks were echoed by Bishop Edward Little of Northern Indiana. “The Christian world will look at that liturgy world and see vows, and exchange of rings, a pronouncement and a blessing and they will understand that to mean the Episcopal Church has endorsed same-sex marriage and changed a basic Christian doctrine. I do not believe that we are free to do that.”
Some of the bishops claimed that the resolution would alienate Hispanic members of the church. But Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida called his brethren out for treating Hispanics as a monolithic block. “The reality is that we, like everybody else, have gay children. We have gay parents. We have gay uncles,” he said.
“You cannot generalize that Hispanics are going to run away from the Episcopal Church because we have a door that’s open. We are going to run from immigration that’s trying to deport us, but not from the Episcopal Church,” he continued.
Bishop Steven Miller of Milwaukee also opposed the resolution, claiming that it would turn LGBTQ Episcopalians into second-class citizens who could receive a blessing, but not marry.
But by and large, most bishops announced their support for the proposal, saying that they were true to the spirit of Anglicanism, which has long aimed to be a ‘big tent’ church that includes diverse theological viewpoints. Bishop Nathan Baxter of Central Pennsylvania exhorted his fellow bishops to “theological, pastoral and canonical inclusion.” He reminded the House that the church had been mulling issues of homosexuality for over 40 years, and it was time to move the conversation forward.
The resolution must now go before the House of Deputies before it can become church law.