Another amazing step forward for the Episcopal Church. A day after voting to end the moratorium on ordaining gay and lesbians Tuesday, the bishops voted 104-30 at the Episcopal General Convention to “collect and develop theological resources and liturgies” for blessing same-sex relationships, which would be considered at the next national meeting in 2012. Though this is a step short of an actual rite, the development over the next three years could lead to an official rite which will be added to the Book of Prayer.
The measure will now go to the church’s House of Deputies, which represents the clergy and lay people, and is known to be more liberal than the bishops and expected to give approval at the convention later this week.
The measure states “where same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church."
This measure is seen as a compromise to the bishops who feel their congregation is not yet ready to make this official step. However, the majority approved because, according to the New York Times, "They felt compelled to act because of their pastoral responsibility to gay couples who were increasingly coming forward to ask the church to bless their unions. Many also said they saw it as a simple matter of granting equal rights to gay men and lesbians."
The Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, has added pressure to the already mounting tension within the Communion that strives to keep branches from breaking away. It remains to be seen how these current LGBT-inclusive decisions will affect the church, but many conservatives feel this will drive a permanent schism between the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion.
“For many, this is the final straw with members of the wider Anglican Communion,” said Bishop William Love of Albany, N.Y. “It’s breaking my heart to see the church destroy itself in the manner in which we seem to be doing.”
Yet the votes show that this is a minority position.
“We certainly feel a deep need to be able to proclaim the love of God in the midst of a changing reality,” said Suffragan Bishop James Curry of the Diocese of Connecticut, one of six states that are legalizing same-gender marriage.
The Rev. Raisin Horn, the priest of Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City, told the New York Times, “If a same-sex couple comes to me and they want a marriage rite, they would go through the same premarital counseling, and have to show the same quality of relationship that I would want to see in any couple. I will not have to say to them, all the right things are in place except for your sexuality.”