Then, under its current Republican governor and Attorney General, Viriginia has gone after the limited protections that LGBT people have, for example partner benefits, or non-discrimination based on orientation, at the University of Virginia. This sort of policy not only affects LGBT people, but disadvantages the state and the university generally as well. Bright people of the sort who drive economies, even if straight, typically are attracted by open, gay-friendly communities and turned off by bigotry.
And of course, it's in Virginia that the schism, or perhaps I should say, the splinter, of the Episcopal church has a deep foundation. Last year, we discussed the rather insulting language proposed in the Diocese of Virginia as part of their study process to determine whether LGBT couples were suitable candidates for ecclesiastical recognition.
So what a great surprise to hear from our friend Margaret that the Bishop of Virginia is moving ahead with a policy to allow same-sex blessings in the church! He said,
... I have always affirmed that committed, monogamous same-gender relationships can indeed be faithful in the Christian life. Therefore, I plan also to begin working immediately with those congregations that want to establish the parameters for the “generous pastoral response” that the 2009 General Convention called for with respect to same-gender couples in Episcopal churches.The limits of the "generous pastoral response" remain to be seen, of course. But just for comparison, the Bishop of San Diego last summer approved the formal blessing of same sex unions. Individual parishes must undergo a self-study before they may begin. Then, candidates must go through a typical counseling process, write letters to the Bishop explaining why they want a blessing, and develop an appropriate liturgy with the clergy. It's not very different from a straight couple marrying, although the Bishop must explicitly approve. The Cathedral performed its first blessing service last November. BP and I will have our civil marriage blessed next month. For us of course it's not a wedding, since we are already married, so it's a much more sedate affair, and the process and liturgy have been tailored accordingly. (I think there are 5 or 6 couples "in the pipeline").
Personally, it is my hope that the 2012 General Convention will authorize the formal blessing of same-gender unions for those clergy in places that want to celebrate them. Until then, we might not be able to do all that we would want to do but, in my judgment, it is right to do something and it is time to do what we can.
So, if something like this begins in Virginia, what then? Unlike California, where LGBT couples have some protections in Domestic Partnerships (2nd class though this may be), Virginia fully disenfranchises its LGBT citizens. Yet their church will recognize them. As we've discussed before, The Episcopal church has a substantial weight and influence far beyond its numerical size. I can't help but hope that a mainline church community that recognizes faithful LGBT couples will provide at least some counterweight to the anti-gay bias demonstrated by the conservative government there. Or will there be an explicit conflict? Regardless, it's a very symbolic chip in the wall of hate.