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:
CIVIL MARRIAGE EQUALITY.
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.