The House of Deputies on Monday approved a resolution that seeks to make liturgies for marrying same-sex couples available in every diocese where such marriages are legal.
Resolution B012 would make the marriage rites authorized for trial use by the 2015 General Convention available “under the canonical direction of the Rector or Member of the Clergy in charge … [to] all couples desiring to use these marriage liturgies in their local congregation or worshipping community.”
The resolution would require bishops who opposes the marriage of same-sex couples to “invite, as necessary, another bishop of this Church to provide pastoral support to the couple, the Member of the Clergy involved and the congregation.”
The resolution now moves to the House of Bishops.
In a move that surprised members of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage which had spent the last three years studying issues relating to marriage, Bishops Larry Provenzano of Long Island proposed B012, with endorsements by Bishops Dorsey McConnell of Pittsburgh and Nicholas Knisely of Rhode Island, just days before General Convention began.
Although the resolution sparked impassioned debate both in legislative hearings and on the floor of the House of Deputies, when the vote finally came, a substantially amended version of B012 passed easily with a vote of 96 yes, 10 no, and four divided in the clergy order and 97 yes, eight no, and five divided in the lay order.
In its original form, B012 proposed the use of Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) in which a congregation in a diocese where the bishop does not allow access to the liturgies could request the oversight of another bishop supportive of same-sex marriage. It also proposed the creation of a Task Force on Communion across Difference that would comprise no more than 14 members, half of whom believe that “marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman” and half of whom hold that marriage is a “covenant between two people.”
The motion approved by the House of Deputies on Monday was amended, first by a legislative committee, which held open hearings on marriage-related resolutions on Thursday afternoon and evening, and then on the floor of the House of Deputies through an amendment offered by Deputy Christopher Hayes of California.
By the time the proposal came to a vote, the proposed task force had been divided into a separate motion, Resolution A227, and the use of DEPO had been replaced by the clause assigning canonical responsibility for the liturgies to congregational clergy. The revised resolution also makes it possible for the diocesan bishop to invite another bishop to fulfill the bishop’s canonical responsibility to consent to marriages of same-sex couples in which one partner has been divorced.
In Thursday’s hearings, much of the testimony was given by Episcopalians from dioceses whose bishops do not permit use of the marriage liturgies.
“Right now, there are Episcopalians who encounter a red light to marriage simply because they happen to live in a diocese where the sacrament of marriage is denied to them, said Francie Likis, a member of the diocesan council in the Diocese of Tennessee, where Bishop John Bauerschmidt has not permitted use of the liturgies contained in “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing.” “While B012 is well-intentioned, it creates a yellow light situation in which there will be separate and unequal access to the sacrament of marriage for same-sex couples,” she said.
Deputy Justin Holcomb of the Diocese of Central Florida, where Bishop Greg Brewer does not allow use of the trial liturgies, spoke in support of the original version of B012 and characterized the effort to include the new liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer as a unilateral change to the church’s doctrines. “To do this would be acting like other schismatic Anglican groups that have left the Communion because they didn’t get what they wanted on their terms and on their timeline,” he said.
Deputy Jordan Hylden of the Diocese of Dallas, where Bishop George Sumner does not allow use of the liturgies, spoke in favor of the original version of B012 by reading a statement from Brad Nitschke, the senior warden at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church where Hylden and his wife are co-rectors. In the statement, Nitshke, who identified himself as a married gay man, urged what he called a compromise “that required no bloodshed.” In doing so, he said, “we also allow the witness of gay couples and affirming parishes in traditionalist dioceses to show the good fruit that, over time, can lead hearts and minds to change.”
Although many long-time marriage equality advocates testified against the original version of B012 on Thursday, they led support for its amended version when it came to the House of Deputies on Monday.
Deputy Susan Russell of the Diocese of Los Angeles said that the motion “will move us beyond the seemingly intractable challenge of living together as a church where the sacramental marriage that has been authorized for all couples in the Episcopal Church is irreconcilable with the theological conscience of some members of the Episcopal Church.”
“Make no mistake about it: it contains costly compromises that come with very real pain,” she said.
In proposing his amendment, Hayes said it had been “written in consultation with a number of people who have labored for the last two triennia on how to honor the theological diversity of this church on the issue of marriage while ensuring that liturgies for marriage of same-sex couples can be used as broadly as possible.
“We honor the conscientious theological position expressed by the Communion Partner bishops and also honor the needs of same-sex couples for an equal place in this Church,” he said. “The common bond we share in baptism calls us to nothing less.”
A controversy over whether Latinx Episcopalians, particularly those who speak Spanish, had been offered sufficient opportunity to participate in the debate over the marriage rites began a few days before General Convention when the bishops who proposed B012 published a media release saying that “Prayer book revision [the alternative proposed by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage in Resolution A086], at this time would likely make the Episcopal Church untenable for many of our members outside the United States, especially in Province IX. … This may often if not always be true as well for immigrant congregations in the United States.”
Province IX comprises dioceses in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
The release also stated, inaccurately, that no member of Province IX had been appointed to the marriage task force and questioned whether “we have had the conversation we needed.” The Rev. Canon Humphrey Paulino of Venezuela was a member of the task force.
The question of Spanish-speakers’ access to the debate was exacerbated at Thursday afternoon’s hearing when no Spanish-language interpreter was present and no Spanish translation of Resolution B012 was available.
“The church knew that Province IX would be here,” Bishop Lloyd Allen of Honduras said. “And the church should have made the proper provision to provide a translator … I don’t feel welcome.”
“In Province IX, we have been treated in this church as second-class citizens,” he said. “If the church continues to change the prayer book and to play with scripture, it will be a time, probably, for Province IX, who are not welcome, to begin to walk apart.”
In the debate provoked by the B012 media release and Allen’s allegations, other Latinx Episcopalians objected to the assertion that opposition to marriage equality was unanimous in their communities.
In a media briefing following the vote on the amended version of B012, Deputy Ariana Gonzalez-Bonillas of Arizona, said that the compromise contained in the resolution is “a good step forward for the LGBTQ community in the Episcopal Church. I wanted to come out as a bisexual Latina – sometimes I refer to myself as queer or gay – because I wanted to show the diversity of identity within the Latinx community, both in and outside of the U. S. I am part of these two communities, and there are many of us in both, and we are the evidence that the two are not mutually exclusive.”
The Rev. Juan Oliver, custodian of the Book of Common Prayer, who identifies himself as a Puerto Rican married gay man, gave impassioned testimony at the committee’s evening hearing. “We must not pit Latinos against the LGBTQ people of this church, if for no other reason that we are everywhere,” he said in a written copy of his testimony. “We are the sons and sisters of parishioners in Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, the cousins of your highest pledgers in Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.”
In June, the General Synod of the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil – the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil – approved changes to its canons to permit same-sex marriages. Brazil has had civil marriage equality since 2012. Hayes, who in addition to being a deputy is the chancellor of the Diocese of California, said in an email that, due to a January decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, all countries with dioceses in Province IX of the Episcopal Church except Venezuela are now legally bound to implement civil marriage equality. Two other dioceses outside the United States — the Diocese of the Virgin Islands and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe — have civil marriage equality in part, but not all, of their territories.
Concern that white deputies were stereotyping Latinx deputies’ views on B012 led Deputy Adrian Linares of Puerto Rico to go to the microphone where, saying he was speaking for his deputation, he said that regardless of the outcome of the vote, “Puerto Rico will not leave.”
Resolution A227, forming a Task Force on Communion across Difference, has yet to come to the house.