#GC79 and Marriage Rites for the Whole Church

As we approached the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the accessibility of marriage rites for all couples who present themselves for marriage was still up for debate. At the 78th General Convention in 2015, there were three marriage rites: the rite of marriage in the BCP, available to all and presuming that the couple identifies as one man and one women; a gender-neutral version of the rite of marriage in the BCP available for trial use for all couples; and a marriage rite based on the liturgy “I will bless you, and you will be a blessing,” available for trial use to all couples. Because two of these marriage rites were for trial use, they were accessible at the discretion of the diocesan bishop. Eight dioceses prohibited their use.

The question of the 79th General Convention was what do we mean when we say “All are welcome.” At the hearings for marriage rites, those who argued that marriage is between “one man and one woman” showed up in numbers that surprised, as some local churches bused people in to testify. As a result testimony was evenly split, if not tilted against those who argued for the full inclusion of all couples to the sacrament of marriage. The debate was complicated by the fact that the committee had failed to make the materials of the debate available in languages beyond English, particularly Spanish, and had failed initially to provide translators during the hearings. It is more than unfortunate that when debating the full inclusion of one minority group another minority group was excluded. We can and must do better.

The net result of the debates was the emergence of a compromise between various participants. As we leave General Convention, we leave with these three items in place.

• The three rites of marriage remain in place, with two of them authorized for trial use.
• The authorization to use any of these three rites is now located at the level of the rector or priest-in-charge. A diocesan Bishop is no longer able to prohibit their use.
• If a Bishop has an objection to marriage for same sex couples, this bishop may request that another bishop provide pastoral support to the rector or priest-in-charge, and/or give permission in the case of marriage after divorce.

While this compromise is one step forward, the full embrace of sacramental marriage equality remains before us. It is clear that what divisions remain in how we read Scripture, do theology, and understand justice hamper our ability to welcome all people and carry out God’s mission. We must be able to align our practice with our proclamation and fully proclaim God’s love to all people.

- The Rev. Iain Stanford, TransEpiscopal


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