Monday, June 13, 2011

How do you bless marriage that isn't, yet?

As the Episcopal church lumbers closer to a rite for same sex blessings, our friend Fred over at Off Topic Allowed says just do it already! Fred suggests the rite for blessing of a civil marriage.

While I applaud Fred's typically forthright post, especially his recommendation that LGBT couples should be treated exactly like straight couples, I recognize a real problem. And that problem is, there is no one-size fits all approach for LGBT couples because there are about four different ways they will present themselves to the church.

First, and most simply, there are couples like BP and me: we were legally married in the state of California in 2008 (pre Prop-H8). For people like us, who are married, the rite blessing a civil marriage would be appropriate. (In our case, our marriage was blessed by the church earlier this year which I blogged about previously.)

Second, there are couples who plan to marry in states that allow marriage. Those couples reasonably want to be married in church, by their priest, and indeed some dioceses allow this, in jurisdictions where there is marriage equality. The Rite here would ideally be the Marriage Rite.

Both of these cases are really parallel to the experience of straight couples. The LGBT couples should be called to the same standards, process and expectation as straight couples. The Rites should be the same. Marriage is, after all, marriage.

The complications come from jurisdictions where marriage is not legal.

Six (?) states allow some form of civil union. These are typically NOT obtained from an agent of the state, but by mailing in notarized documents. There isn't a "license" and no priest or judicial officer presides in an legal-official way. Now, it seems to me that in states where this is legal, it should be a requirement for a blessing that one obtains such recognition as is offered. I am well aware that thanks to DOMA and other laws, there may actually be a financial disincentive for having the legal relationship (related primarily to tax and gift law) but I still think it should be required. In this case, the Rite of Blessing of a Civil Marriage would also be mostly appropriate, except for the painful issue that a civil union (domestic partnership in California) is not a marriage. That's kinda the point.

But finally, what is the role of the church in a jurisdiction that forbids legal recognition of same sex couples? this is the thorny one, for me. The church would not, I presume, bless the relationship of a straight couple living outside of the bonds of legal marriage. Then how do we ask it to do so for LGBT couples? And since they are not married, legally, or even unioned, how can you possibly use a rite that includes the word "marriage"? (One way around this is for LGBT people to get married in legal jurisdictions, and come home for the blessing. In that case, they would fit under category one.)

But what I really fear will happen is that the church will have a gay-specific rite and will apply it in all four cases. A sort of LGBT apartheid, albeit well-meant. A slap in the face that LGBT couples are Less Than The Real Thing, even if technically they HAVE the real thing. As a married person, I would be really upset if the official line refused to recognize me as married.

There's only one solution to this problem:


If there is civil marriage equality across the country, then there can be uniform treatment of LGBT people and straight people. No if ands or buts: the church treats couples identically regardless of gender. A couple long together can get a JP to do the marriage in the county courthouse for a few hundred dollars at most, if they don't want a Church Wedding.

For this reason, I hope that TEC becomes a very LOUD voice for equality. There have been some outspoken individual bishops already, as we've seen in a number of states. But stronger still would be an institutional commitment to uniform treatment.

Alas, my inner realist finds this unlikely. Too many people will be happy with the official second-class of civil unions and a separate rites. And if you put us in a separate category, we know we are not equal. And I fear that will be very, very damaging.

Update from the comments: Harold brings up some concerns about BCP revisions. There is also this link from a Bishop's conference that indicates (to my mind) a move towards separate (gay-ghetto) blessing, NOT marriage.


Harold said...

One thing I have never ever seen discussed is what we would need to do to modify the BCP to use rites for marriage or blessing of marriage for same-sex couples. BCP pg 422, Marriage, "Concerning the Service" says "Christian marriage is a solemn and public convenant between a man a woman in the presence of God." BCP pg 433 "Blessing of a Civil Marriage" says "After the Gospel (and homily), the husband and wife stand before the Celebrant..." and "N., you have taken N. to be your wife." and "N., you have taken N. to be your husband." and so forth. Now obviously I am entirely for marraige equality both civil and religious but I think it's a bit facile for people to say "just do it" when it may also be a question of amending the BCP and (probably - although I'm no expert on it) canon law. We certainly need to get it done but it's a little more than just doing it. I, with you, am leery of the possible "separate but equal" track which could come out of developing rites and liturgies for same-sex couples, but it certainly is easier than trying to amend the BCP.

JCF said...

it certainly is easier than trying to amend the BCP


The current BCP version is now 32 years old. I've been calling for its revision for over 5 years now.

An unrevised BCP leads to PrayerBookolatry: that's what happened w/ the 1928 edition, and it'll happen again w/ the 1979 if we don't get on the ball (led by the Spirit!) and revise it.

That the Marriage Rite REQUIRES revision is a happy coincidence.

Harold said...

I agree it does. I also think we will run into considerably MORE resistance to changing the BCP than you will in developing rites. That's why I think it should be on the radar NOW.

IT said...

If "they" make a separate liturgy to cover all 4 classes , I think it will result in a permanent liturgical gay ghetto and emphasize that we aren't equal. If you read the conversations from the meetings there is already resistance of the sort Harold fears. There will be substantial pressure to leave things there, separate. I think that will be deeply damaging.

Fred Schwartz said...

Let me be clear, my major point was we have the same sacrament for baptism, we have the same sacaremtn for ordination and for consecreation, we have the same thing for everything, why would we change for marriage? I find the language issue to have no traction as couples can usually or are usually allowed some latitude.

I agree IT, there absolutely must be marriage equality.

James said...

There will be a couple of alternatives / solutions offered by the Liturgy commission at GC. You'll be very pleased by their work, I think.

Marshall Scott said...

As a current (and past) Deputy to General Convention, I can affirm at least structurally the difficulties in actually revising the Book of Common Prayer. Since it is established by the Constitution of the Church, it would require two consecutive General Conventions. There are some sections of the Book that don't require that - notably, the Kalendar (the schedule of observed major and minor feasts) and the Lectionary. I don't think the text or the rubrics of the rite of Matrimony fall into that category. If the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has such a resolution to consider next year, it might be done in four years; but if not, it would be another six at least - and that's without significant opposition (and, while I don't think it would carry the day, I think there would be opposition).

The Prayer Book is certainly due for revision. However, General Convention has, for some time, pursued a different strategy, one that opens up a different possibility. The Church has approved alternative rites "for trial use" - until they are ultimately incorporated into the next Prayer Book, or otherwise displace. "Trial use" can stand for quite a long time, and in "trial use" rites are considered part of the liturgical resources. While they usually require permission of the diocesan bishop, they are considered alternatives, "equal" if you will, to the rites of the Prayer Book.

So, the opportunity would be there for an alternative rite for blessing all couples, whether gay or straight, or at least all those with some legal standing. It would not be the Prayer Book rite, Fred; but neither would it be "ghettoized" in the way that you fear, IT. It would be available across the Episcopal Church, and not the current patchwork of diocesan and/or ad hoc rites of blessing. It would take some advocacy to get it used widely; but we've long had that very problem with the rite for the Blessing of a Civil Marriage.

When we approved the ordination of women to the priesthood (and therefore the episcopate), General Convention passed a Canon to interpret liberally the Constitution. Since at that time the Prayer Book was already in the process of revision, it was easy to change the rites of Ordination. I don't know whether a permissive Canon would work in the same way for the text and rubrics of the rite of Matrimony; but I wouldn't be surprised if someone is thinking of it.

JCF, as I said, I agree that the Prayer Book is in need of revision. However, I don't think we could revise simply Matrimony. There are some really good trial use Eucharistic rites available, that few folks see because they're not published in the Prayer Book. My guess is that, once the issue of revision was seriously raised, it would be for revision of the entire Prayer Book; and I fear that would take significantly longer than six years. Passage in the interim of a trial use rite applicable for all couples might well be our most equitable option, if not perfect.

IT said...

I think a rite available for ALL couples would work Marshall. my fear is a gay-specific rite.

dr.primrose said...

On a somewhat related note, the attempt to throw out the Prop. 8 district court decision because the judge was gay and partnered has failed -- Gay jurist in Proposition 8 case had no legal obligation to remove himself, judge rules.

IT said...

Thanks Primrose. I am not a lawyer but it appears to me that Judge Ware gave a smackdown to the Prop8 side.

Fred Schwartz said...

On the prop 8 issue: I found the argument disingenuous. Would there argument mean that hetersexual judges would not be able to hear divorce cases? Or child custody cases?

On the issue of the alternative rits for marriage I just do not see a need for anything that is not identical. I am probably not saying this well but the issue for me is "separate but equal" types of rulings. Something that calls attention to one's sexuality and provides an "alternative" smacks of separate treatment.