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GC2012: Landslide Victory For Gay Marriage
By Michael Heidt in Indianapolis
July 10, 2012
The House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church's 77th General Convention in Indianapolis made history on July 10, 2012, passing gay-marriage by a landslide majority.
Meeting in legislative session, the House of Deputies debated resolution A049, which proposed provisional blessing rituals, or liturgies, for same-sex couples, entitled, I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing. The debate began with a Minority Report, given by the Very Rev. David Thurlow of the Diocese of South Carolina.
Thurlow told the House that did not expect to change the outcome of the vote and then spoke against the resolution, saying that gay-marriage contradicted scripture and tradition. "For two thousand years the church has had clear teaching on marriage," clear teaching that would be broken by voting in favor of the resolution. Referring to the ecumenical damage that would be caused by gay-marriage, Thurlow stated that "the bishops of the (Anglican) Communion and Provinces have spoken, our ecumenical partners, Rome and Constantinople have spoken. Consider what's at stake."
Thurlow concluded, "This motion, if passed, will result in the Episcopal Church marching off not simply out of step, but out of line with the faith once delivered by Christ to the saints."
The report over, debate began, with many deputies speaking emotionally in favor of the resolution. One deputy stated that "gays and lesbians are human beings. Gays and lesbians happen to make lifelong commitments to each other like other human beings. I was moved to tears when a gay man told me of his lifelong relationship with his deceased partner." Tears continued with Jack Zambone from the Diocese of New Jersey. For him, the gay-marriage ceremony proposed by A049 was a "wonderful piece of work," and that "the lesbian couple in the parish where I serve burst into tears when I told them about it. They never thought it would happen in their lifetime."
Another deputy, Hallas from Chicago, was on the point of crying himself as he told the story of his lesbian sister. The thought of her "civil union" gave him an "unspeakable thrill," said Hallas, who stated that he felt bound to ensure that his sister had the "same rights and privileges as myself."
Jenna Guy from the Diocese of Iowa, declared that the matter was "very close to my heart," and that she took "great pride in the in the inclusive nature of my church." Guy also said that same-sex blessings would help evangelism, "For the sake of the future growth of this church, I urge all of you to vote in favor of this resolution."
But not all deputies spoke in favor of the resolution. Rev. Canon Neal Michell, of the Diocese of Dallas, moved that A049 be referred back to committee because insufficient work had been on its pastoral and theological implications. Passing and implementing the resolution at this point would be "like throwing a piece of spaghetti against the wall and seeing if it'll stick," he said. Michell's motion was defeated.
Rev. Lewis, of the Diocese of Southwest Florida, stated that the resolution "represents a turning point." She told the deputies that it was a "new teaching about the nature and significance of marriage," and even though the blessing ritual in question was not properly speaking a marriage, it is "being seen as a marriage rite." She recommended the House not pass the resolution because "reformation takes time," in the same way that a large barge takes time to turn around.
Deputy Holt, from the Diocese of Central Florida, stated that the debate was divisive. "What I want is for us to be faithful to what we have in the Book of Common Prayer," which teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. This, argued Holt, was the teaching of "Our Lord Christ." A lay deputy from the Diocese of Albany was more forceful; passing the resolution was, for him, an exercise in the "majority wielding power."
After procedural delay, in which deputy Kimbrough, of the Diocese of Tennessee, attempted to divide the vote along its second Resolve, the debate closed with a meditation by Rev. Frank Wade of the Diocese of Washington DC.
The House of Deputies then voted by orders, with 86 lay members and 85 clergy voting overwhelmingly in favor of the resolution; a victory for gay-marriage of 78% and 76% respectively.
Shortly after the vote, the traditionally minded Diocese of South Carolina issued the following statement, grieving the decision to authorize same-sex blessing rituals.
"It is with heavy hearts that Bishop Mark Lawrence and the South Carolina deputation to General Convention must report the final passage and adoption of Resolution A049, the Resolution to Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships. Our deputation, in voting against its passage, remains united and unanimous in our support of the historic understanding of "the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them." In the debate prior to the vote being taken, we spoke in favor of the minority report authored and presented by the Very Rev. David Thurlow. The Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina, in its statement of June 15 has articulated the clear position of our diocese on marriage. The South Carolina deputation wholeheartedly endorses that position. We grieve that General Convention has further departed from these values and adopted a resolution to permit pastoral license to violate the existing canons on marriage. We believe this decision will seriously wound the Church and ask to you join is in prayers for God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."
In contrast, the Episcopalian gay rights group, Integrity, stated that the passage of a church-wide ceremony for blessing same-sex unions was a "milestone in the journey toward achieving full inclusion, and being able to truly declare that 'all means all' in the worship life of the denomination."
The Episcopal Church will now implement I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing. The gay blessing liturgy is authorized for use on the first Sunday of Advent, December 2, 2012.
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