Marriage task force calls for gender-neutral language in marriage canon


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Proposed change would allow clergy to solemnize same-sex unions

[Episcopal News Service] The A050 Task Force on the Study of Marriage is recommending that the 2015 meeting of General Convention authorize Episcopal Church clergy to officiate at same-sex marriages.

The task force proposes the change in its just-released Blue Book report by way of a resolution (numbered A036) that would revise Canon I.18 titled “Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony” (page 58 of The Episcopal Church’s canons here).

The revision removes, among many edits, the language of I.18.2(b) that requires couples to “understand that Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman.” Removing that and other gender-specific language from the canon, the report says, addresses the mandate in the group’s enabling resolution that it “address the pastoral need for priests to officiate at a civil marriage of a same-sex couple in states that authorize such.”

Section 3 of Canon 18 would be rewritten to, in part, remove the requirement that the couple sign a declaration stating they “solemnly declare that we hold marriage to be a lifelong union of husband and wife as it is set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.”

The revision would recast the requirement in the canon’s first section that clergy conform to both “the laws of the state” and “the laws of this Church” about marriage. The rewritten portion of that section would require that clergy conform to “the laws of the State governing the creation of the civil status of marriage, and also to these canons concerning the solemnization of marriage.”

Canon I.18 contains the majority of the rules in the church’s canons about clergy officiating at marriage. Canon I.19 governs the “preservation of marriage, dissolution of marriage, and remarriage” and as such refers to “husband” and “wife” in its third section. The Book of Common Prayer, which Article X of the church’s constitution authorizes, refers to marriage on page 422 as Christian marriage being “a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God.” It uses gender-specific language throughout “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage,” “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage” and “An Order for Marriage” rites, as well as in its “Additional Directions” section.

The task force says in its report that its revision of Canon I.18 makes the canon “focused on the actual vows made in The Book of Common Prayer marriage rite, rather than on the purposes of marriage in general,” which it adds are stated “in literally creedal form.”

The clergy’s discretion to decline to solemnize any marriage is preserved and extended to include the choice to decline offering a blessing on a marriage, the task force said.

The 122-page report, the majority of which includes resources the task force developed for the study of marriage and essays on various issues concerning marriage, is available in English here and in Spanish here.

The task force was formed in response to a call (via Resolution A050) from the 77th General Convention in July 2012 for a group of “theologians, liturgists, pastors and educators to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical and canonical dimensions of marriage.”

That same meeting of convention authorized provisional use of a rite to bless same-sex relationships. Use of that rite, Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be A Blessing, is due to be reviewed by General Convention in 2015.

Noting the rapidly changing social and legal landscape of marriage, the Task Force on the Study of Marriage says in its report that “this time of flux bears continuing discernment and attention by our Church.”

Thus the group will ask convention to consider Resolution A037 to continue the task force’s work into the 2016-2018 triennium as a way to “explore further those contemporary trends and norms” the current group has identified.

Those trends and norms, the group’s report says, include “those who choose to remain single; unmarried persons in intimate relationships; couples who cohabitate either in preparation for, or as an alternative to, marriage; couples who desire a blessing from the Church but not marriage; parenting by single and/or unmarried persons; differing forms of family and household such as those including same-sex parenting, adoption, and racial diversity; and differences in marriage patterns between ethnic and racial groups, and between provinces inside and outside the United States.”

While doing its work this triennium, “the Task Force became highly aware of a growing contemporary reality in society and the Church that is redefining what many mean by ‘family’ or ‘household,’” the group says in its report, adding that “this changing reality is felt in our congregations.”

Marriage “as a normative way of life” is being challenged, yet the group says it “did not have the time or resources to fully address this reality.”

“More broadly, our Church has done very little to respond to it,” the task force says.

The task force’s two resolutions, as well as other expected proposed resolutions on marriage, will be handled by a special legislative Committee on Marriage when the General Convention next meets June 25-July 3 in Salt Lake City.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, said in July that they would appoint the committee “to ensure that the work of the Task Force on Marriage and resolutions related to the rapidly shifting contexts of civil marriage in the United States and in several other parts of the world can be given appropriate consideration.”

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About Fr. Orthohippo

The blog of a retired Anglican priest (MSJ), his musings, journey, humor, wonderment, and comments on today's scene.
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