Friday, October 27, 2006

Getting Out of the Marriage Business

This weekend the Diocese of Massachusetts will gather for their Annual Convention. Among the resolutions they will consider will be this one:

Resolution Regarding the Ministry of Blessing Marriages,
submitted by The Rev. Barbara Edgar, The Rev. Mally Lloyd, The Rev. Steve Smith, The Rev. Pam Werntz and the Rev. Skip Windsor.

Resolved, that it is the sentiment of the 221st Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts that beginning January 2008, Episcopal marriages be presided over by an agent of the state; and be it further,

Resolved, that it is the sentiment of the 221st Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts that marriages in the Diocese of Massachusetts be limited to the blessing of the union as a holy act and that clergy not act as an agent of the state for any form of civil marriage.

It is time to question whether clergy ought to act as agents of the state in Massachusetts. The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States enunciates the importance of the separation of Church and State to protect the religious liberties of all Americans. The Church and its clergy are in the ministry of blessing, and not in the vocation of conducting, marriage ceremonies. In many other parts of the world the role clergy play is strictly that of blessing civil marriages or unions.
The Diocesan site offers further explanation:

...The proposers say their resolution stems from concern about separation of church and state, as well as a desire to equalize the role of Episcopal clergy in all marriage ceremonies in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal. Currently Episcopal clergy may bless but not officiate same-sex marriages...
And from the Boston Globe:

...Episcopal priests in Massachusetts have been particularly engaged in the issue of gay marriage, because the diocese here has been strongly supportive of gay rights, but the national church's regulations define marriage as a heterosexual institution. The local bishop, M. Thomas Shaw , a supporter of same-sex marriage, has decreed that local Episcopal priests cannot sign the marriage licenses of same-sex couples, but can bless those couples after they are legally married by clergy of another denomination or by a civil official.

"I feel this is a way to equalize an inequity in what Episcopal clergy can do for gay folks and straight folks," said the Rev. Margaret (Mally) E. Lloyd , rector of Christ Church in Plymouth. Lloyd is one of five Episcopal priests sponsoring the resolution.

"Right now, we can only offer blessings for gay folks who are married, and it's not fair," she said. ``The church moves slowly to make changes in canon law, so what can we do in the meantime? This is something good for the diocese to wrestle with."
It's about time we started seriously considering such a proposal. I've never been comfortable with the clergy's role in the whole marriage license bit.

Being a resident of New Jersey, I'll be watching this resolution closely. It may be a good template for our Diocesan Convention.

Elizabeth Kaeton offers some good commentary on the New Jersey ruling. After you've read it, make sure you go sign the petition.


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