The Marriage Resolutions: A Primer

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The topic of marriage – who is included, how the church is involved, and what the rites should look like – has been in front of every General Convention for at least 40 years.

The 79th General Convention will be no different.

The focus this time will be on the recommendations of the 19-member Task Force on the Study of Marriage, and an alternative proposal by three bishops put forward a week before General Convention convened.

There are three primary issues focusing on marriage at this General Convention.

  • What to do, if anything, about bishops who do not allow access to the same-sex marriage rites that were approved for trial use at the 2015 General Convention.
  • Whether such rites should be included “for trial use” in the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Whether alternative rites should be offered to couple who wish to make a life-long commitment but do not want to formalize their relationship as marriage.

The task force did an extensive survey of marriage “trends and norms” throughout contemporary society and the Episcopal Church, finding that 93 diocesan bishops have authorized trial use of liturgies for same-sex marriage while eight bishops have not authorized use of such liturgies in their dioceses. Five of those bishops prohibited their clergy from using the rites within or outside their diocese.

The task force proposed A085 that would extend the trial use of the same-sex marriage liturgies as additions to the Book of Common Prayer, thus making them available to any couple, anywhere in the church.

The task force’s resolution further recommended amending the catechism in the prayer book to state that Christian marriage involves “two people” rather than “the man and the woman.”

Under A085, the changes would not appear in printed versions of the Book of Common Prayer but would appear in “Liturgical Resources 2” in the Enriching Our Worship series. But the resolution would allow a future General Convention to fully adopt the rites into future printings of the prayer book.

The task force further recommended adding a second liturgy to Enriching Our Worship for “The Blessing of a Lifelong Relationship” for those living in a monogamous relationship and who wish to formalize their relationship in a way other than marriage.

A minority report was offered by one member of the task force, the Rev. Canon Jordan Hylden, canon theologian for the Diocese of Dallas. He said he was “troubled” by objections raised by Province IX bishops in Central and South America and Puerto Rico. He noted that there were no representatives of the Latin American dioceses on the task force. A priest from Venezuela was appointed by the presiding officers but did not participate.

He also objected to what he called a “piecemeal” or “surgical” approach to revising the Book of Common Prayer. “I have spoken to several colleagues in TEC who are in favor of revising our practice of marriage, but who are nonetheless not sure that the current Trial Use rites are seasoned enough to merit inclusion in the BCP at this time.”

A week before General Convention convened, Bishops Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island, Dorsey McConnell of Pittsburgh and Nicolas Knisely of Rhode Island offered their own proposal, B012, that, they wrote, “seeks to ensure that all God’s people have access to all the marriage liturgies” but not placing such rites in the Book of Common Prayer.

Their proposal would also provide an avenue for the clergy and congregations that want to use such rites in the eight dioceses that don’t allow them.

Such clergy and congregations could request “Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight,” or “DEPO,” from another bishop in another diocese. The DEPO procedures were previously used by clergy and congregations who had objected to their bishops allowing for same-sex marriage.

Joan Geiszler-Ludlum, a deputy from the Diocese of East Carolina and the chair of the marriage task force, said that B012 “has potential advantages and disadvantages.”

She expressed concern that B012 offers no way forward for adopting same-sex marriage rites in the Book of Common Prayer. The resolution, she said, “relegates the liturgies for marriages of same-sex couples to perpetual second-class status.”

As for the proposal for DEPO procedures, she noted that it is a policy enacted by the House of Bishops and “lacks fulsome discernment by the full polity of this Church.”

Supporters of A085 such as the Rev. Susan Russell of the Diocese of Los Angeles, have argued that B012 does not make the marriage rites available to couples whose congregations do want DEPO.

Committee 13, the Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169, will hold two hearings on these proposals today at 2:15 p. m. and 7:30 p. m. in Governor’s Ballroom B of the Austin Hilton.

The Rev. James Richardson is an alternate deputy from Diocese of Northern California, interim dean of Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento, and a former political writer with The Sacramento Bee.