Marriage committee in session when news of marriage ruling breaks

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file0002047897127SALT LAKE CITY, JUNE 26–The Special Legislative Committee on Marriage was in the middle of discussing testimony it had heard at last night’s hearing when members learned that the U. S. Supreme Court had issued its intensely-anticipated ruling on marriage quality throughout the United States.

Committee members didn’t know exactly what the ruling was, but a man in the gallery did, and he was asked to come to the microphone to read the news from his smartphone. After telling the gathering that the high court had decided that same-sex marriage must be legal in all 50 states, he said, “I guess this means I’m now married in the state of Michigan.” Those in the room broke into applause.

The Very Rev. Brian Baker, deputy from Northern California and committee co-chair, called for a moment of silence and prayer, and then suggested the committee adjourn to give people space to digest the news. Afterward many in the room were hugging or crying while talking on their phones.

The committee had been deciding whether to craft resolutions that would move the church forward on the issue of same-sex marriage, both canonically and liturgically, while giving people opposed to such marriages ways to feel some comfort with a potentially uncomfortable decision.

Several members, including those who are strong supporters of same-sex marriage within the church, said they were moved by testimony they heard last night that asked them to do two things – not to rely on canonical changes to make this happen, but to begin the process of amending the Prayer Book rites, and not to ignore those who do not want the church to take these steps.

During the hearing on Wednesday evening, nearly two dozen people spoke to resolutions that dealt with canonical changes that would permit same-sex marriage within the church.

Bishop Shannon Johnson of Virginia said he was “utterly committed to full marriage equality. Full stop.” But he added, he doesn’t think it can be accomplished by amending the canons. He said the church instead should begin the two-convention process of amending the Book of Common Prayer. “I want the strongest possible witness for marriage equality,” he said. “Canonical changes are the weakest case. These will put us in conflict with Book of Common Prayer.”

The Very Rev. Alston Johnson, deputy from Western Louisiana, said he was speaking for all those “who have not had the conversion experience” supporting same-sex marriage. “I ask the church to pray for us who seek to be open but speak with honesty and want to be faithful to sacraments that have been formative in our lives and ministries,” he said.

Karma Quick-Penwala, a visitor from the Diocese of California, said that being in an interfaith and interracial marriage herself informs her belief that same-sex couples who choose to be married in the church should have the opportunity to do so. “We recognize all people are God’s children,” she said. “We need to put those words into action.”

The Rev. Richard Elliott, alternate deputy from East Carolina, said that the Holy Spirit has been working in the world on this issue and the church is just starting to catch up. On civil rights, women’s ordination and human sexuality, he said, the church has “had to be dragged kicking and screaming over the threshold.” Now is the time to catch up to what God has been doing, he said.

Sue Bollen, a visitor from the Diocese of Idaho, said telling same-sex couples they have to get married in the courthouse and not the church tells them we think their love isn’t good enough. “Our brothers and sisters who have been able to get married in Idaho tell me how profoundly their lives were changed, being able to walk into a church,” she said. “It is a profound statement of love – you are valuable, you are loved and a part of this church and the body of Christ.”

The committee has divided its work into two subcommittees – canonical issues and liturgical rites – and will continue its work later today. A final hearing, this one on proposed liturgies, is set for this evening at 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Downtown at City Creek.

Melodie Woerman is director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas.