Bishops back gender neutral marriage

“If our Lord is the son of God … God incarnate. He is quite aware of the nature of marriage and could have offered alternatives but did not,” BIshop William Love said in opposition to the bill.

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church have endorsed a change to the church’s marriage canons, replacing the words “man and woman” with “couple”. The roll call vote was 129 in favor, 26 opposed with 5 abstentions. The resolution now proceeds to the House of Deputies for affirmation.

Debate on Resolution A036 “Amend Canon I.18 Marriage” commenced on the 5th legislative day of the 78th General Convention meeting in Salt Lake City. The resolution was brought forward for debate by the Bishop of Idaho, the Rt. Rev. Brian Thom during the 29 June 2015 afternoon session.

He stated the resolution before the House replaced the church’s present regulations entitled “Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony” with a new canon entitled “Of the Celebration and Blessing of Marriage”.

Bishop Thom stated the Committee reviewing the legislation had amended the draft prepared by the Task Force on Marriage substituting a new “declaration” that would permit those not of the Christian faith to sign the declaration, without violating their conscience by falsely claiming Christian belief.

The declaration stated:

We understand the teaching of the church that God’s purpose for our marriage is for our mutual joy, for the help and comfort we will give to each other in prosperity and adversity, and, when it is God’s will, for the gift and heritage of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of God. We also understand that our marriage is to be unconditional, mutual, exclusive, faithful, and lifelong; and we engage to make the utmost effort to accept these gifts and fulfill these duties, with the help of God and the support of our community.

Bishop Thom stated the principle change between the proposed resolution and the current resolution was the use of gender neutral terms, substitution couple for “man and woman”. He further stated that in light of the adoption of Trial Rites for same-sex marriage earlier in the day, the canon would not be in conflict with the Constitution and Book of Common Prayer which described marriage in terms of man and woman. The new resolution did not contradict the Book of Common Prayer, while the Trial Rites adopted by the House needed a canonical foundation.

The Bishop of Springfield, the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, rose and offered a substitute for the resolution, asking the House to adopt a minority report he and other traditional bishops and deputies in the committee had prepared, that kept the old language.

The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little, II, Bishop of Northern Indiana, rose in support of the substitute. The “issue is not the welcome of gays and lesbians” into the Episcopal Church. “That is settled in our baptism. Gays and Lesbians have a full claim on the church’s pastoral care,” he said.

The issue before the House was “whether we should alter the received faith of the church?” The decision to adopt trial liturgies allowed the new rites “to exist with the Book of Common Prayer and to speak  to each other.”

The Bishop of Tennessee, the Rt. Rev. Stephen Bauerschmidt, rose in support of the substitute, saying the new resolution altered church doctrine by downgrading the role of “procreation”. The church’s understanding of marriage was more than mutual aid and comfort, but spoke to the “differences between the sexes. Marriage must have the potential to be fruitful in the procreation of a third person,” he argued.

Gender neutral marriage “detached marriage from the partnership of the two sexes” that was God’s gift of new life.

The Bishop of Eastern Michigan, the Rt. Rev.Todd Ousley, disagreed with the Bishop of Tennessee’s remarks, stating “the on going work of the task force has provided a more expansive understanding” of “fruitfulness” in marriage. As the father of one biological child and the adopted father of two other children, Bishop Ousley stated “we have been fruitful” in our marriage. Procreation should not be limited to biology, he argued.

The retired Bishop of Eastern Oregon, the Rt. Rev. William Gregg rose and asked the president of the meeting, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, whether the resolution was in order. Bishop Jefferts Schori ruled it was.

The suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon rose to challenged Bishop Jefferts Schori’s ruling. He stated the “substitute is not a canon. This is a statement of doctrine”, he said and was “out of order.”

The Bishop of Ohio, the Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth agreed, noting the substitute was not in the proper form or in couched in canonical language, and three other bishops rose in support of Bishop Whalon’s challenge.

The matter was put to the house as a whole and Bishop Jefferts Schori’s decision was overruled by the required two thirds majority, and the Martin’s substitution was ruled out of order.

The former Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson rose and spoke in support of gender neutral marriage canons. “I think it is time for us to do this,” he said, adding “gays and lesbians are living out their lives in holy ways. This resolution allows us to recognizes this” and to “declare how far we have come.”

The Bishop of Albany, the Rt. Rev. William Love rose and stated “as we contemplate changing the understanding of marriage we must remember our Lord’s words in Matthew (19:5). ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’.”

“If our Lord is the son of God … God incarnate. He is quite aware of the nature of marriage and could have offered alternatives but did not,” BIshop Love said.

The “argument has been based on all sorts of things. But it is not an issue that men and women can love each other .. that is not the issue. God has told us that is not appropriate to use the gift of sexual intimacy” outside of the marriage of one man and one woman.

Bishop Love stated the church should ask partnered gay and lesbian couples “do you love your partner enough not to engage in sexual intimacy? The issue before us is not about relationships but sexual intimacy,” he said.

The BIshop of Missouri, the Rt. Rev. G. Wayne Smith, rose and offered an amendment seeking to modify the language of the declaration of marriage prepared by the committee. The “committee tried to make it more palatable for non Christians” to sign the marriage declaration. “We are a church though,” he said, noting his amendment was “more churchy”.

There “are boundaries to what we can and cannot do,” the BIshop of Missouri said.

The suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles the Rt. Rev. Diane Jardin Bruce, rose in opposition stating her son, an Episcopalian, was married to a Hindu. It was important she believed, that non-Christians be compelled to perjure themselves in order to be married in the Episcopal Church.

The Bishop of Eau Claire, the Rt. Rev. W. Jay Lambert, III, rose and offered a second amendment, asking the word procreation be replaced with the “gift and heritage of children.” This change he argued would address the issue of adoption and marriage.

The Bishop of Colorado, the Rt. Rev. Robert O’Neill , offered a further amendment striking marriage and replacing it with the term Holy Matrimony in paragraph 13, the “Declaration of Marriage”.

The Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey McConnell, rose to object to the O’Neill motion, saying “it gets us into the weeds of canonical re-definition.” The committee had sought to avoid this battle and had chosen its language carefully.

The Bishop of Easton, the Rt. Rev. Henry Parsley said the current text “troubled me”. “For us to eliminate the phrase changes the church’s sacramental theology.” The Bishop of Milwaukee, the Rt. Rev. Stephen Miller added “calling it marriage doesn’t give us marriage. If we are talking about Holy Matrimony let us say Holy Matrimony. If we are talking about marriage, let us say marriage.”

After further debate Bishops O’Neill’s and Smith’s amendments were defeated, and Bishop Lambert’s was adopted by the House.

The Bishop of Chicago, the Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Lee rose to speak in favor of the resolution, stating the “celebration of same-sex marriage is part of the life of many of my congregations and a blessing for them.” He further stated the amended canon would not conflict with the constitution and prayer book.

Bishop McConnell responded that his chancellor’s legal opinion was that “this puts the canon in conflict with the constitution. The resolution is unnecessary now that we have trial rites. This is clearly in conflict” and was “problematic.”

The Bishop of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, said he “backed marriage equality in a letter to his diocese. This is the best we can do. We must do this.”

“If we have to wait to sort out a conflict, let it be a canonical conflict not a marriage conflict.”

The Rt. Rev. Michael Smith of North Dakota and Bishop Bauerschmidt asked for a roll call vote, and the matter was placed before the House. It passed 129 to 26 with 5 abstentions, sending the resolution on to the House of Deputies for affirmation.

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