INDIANAPOLIS – The Episcopal Church, already one of the most LGBT-friendly denominations in the U.S., has taken additional steps this week to embrace equality for all its worshippers.
Episcopalians, meeting in Indianapolis at the General Convention, voted overwhelmingly late Tuesday to approve new rites blessing same-sex unions. The liturgy, which will go into effect on Dec. 2, 2012, applies to same-sex unions, but the denomination will still label “marriage” as being only between a man and a woman. The policy calls for a three-year trial period for the rites, after which the Church will review the matter.
Also, the denomination voted on proposals to add gender identity and expression to the Church’s nondiscrimination canons for ordained ministry as well as in the “life, worship, and governance of the Church.”
Lastly, the convention attendees voted in favor of a resolution supporting legislation for equal immigration rights for same-sex couples.
“This is a great day for the Episcopal Church and people of faith everywhere,” said the Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, deputy director of HRC’s Religion and Faith Program. “The Church reaffirmed to LGBT Episcopalians they are also God’s children and they deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion.”
These votes were a long time in the making. Since the 1960s, many clergy have provided private blessings to gay and lesbian couples, but the Church had no official practice. Following the 2009 General Convention, the Church said bishops may provide “generous pastoral response” to gay couples, especially in states that allow civil unions or gay marriages. The Church has been relatively silent on issues related to transgender clergy until this weekend.
“The Episcopal Church one of a growing number of denominations to see a new day in the intersection of faith and sexual orientation and gender identity. This is not only good for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people but it is good for the soul of the church,” Flournoy said.
Mel Soriano, blogging for Integrity USA, wrote:
Integrity USA has been working for thirty five years towards the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Church. Same-gender unions have been blessed in Episcopal churches all over the country for decades, but this is the first time a church-wide public service has been agreed. It is 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. It will enable Integrity to reach out to LGBT persons who have been rejected by the churches they were raised in, as well as those who were raised without any connection to Christianity.
The new blessing liturgy is not a marriage service. It does not use the language of marriage, but emphasizes the lifelong, monogamous, committed nature of the relationship being blessed. Integrity will continue to work for full marriage equality in The Episcopal Church. The president of Integrity, The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall, said “This is a hugely important moment in the history of this church. The Episcopal Church does not have statement of belief other than the ancient creeds. We say that if you want to know what we believe, you can look at the words of our worship. So a liturgy for blessing same-sex relationships brings gay and lesbian couples fully into the life of the Church and proclaims that the Episcopal Church considers that their lives can be holy and blessed by God.”
This permission for same-sex blessings follows the addition of “gender identity and expression” to the non-discrimination laws of The Episcopal Church yesterday. This change makes it unlawful for transgender persons to be excluded from leadership positions, either lay or ordained, based solely on their status as transgender.