Episcopal bishops agree to bless same-sex weddings

Posted July 16, 2009, at 7:46 p.m.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Progressives in the Episcopal Church were on the verge of claiming another victory late Wednesday as denomination leaders endorsed the creation of blessing liturgies for same-sex unions one day after they ended a de facto ban on the ordination of gay bishops.

The action by bishops at the church’s General Convention in Anaheim left conservatives with little to celebrate. They said the twin measures would further divide the 2.1 million member denomination and strain an already fragile relationship with the global Anglican Communion, of which the church is a branch.

The resolution passed overwhelmingly, with 104 bishops, including Maine’s Episcopal Bishop Stephen Lane, voting yes, 30 voting no and two abstaining after a failed attempt by some bishops to kill it. The measure still must be approved by clergy and laity in the church’s other legislative body, the House of Deputies, a step widely viewed as considered all but certain. The convention ends today.

Those who championed the blessings measure — hammered out during hours of private meetings and public debate — said they believed the Episcopal tent was large enough for those who disagree. They pointed to compromise language in the measure that invites “theological reflection” from throughout the wider communion.

“I hope it will help us to be more honest, more compassionate, more sympathetic toward one another,” said Lane, who was part of a small group of bishops involved in crafting the compromise. “We have a breadth of opinion [in the church], and no one is compelled to go against their conscience.”

The resolution was introduced by bishops, priests and lay leaders from the six states, including Maine, where same-sex civil marriage has been approved. Earlier this year, Lane submitted testimony to the state Legislature in support of the Maine legislation, which passed by a large margin and was signed by Gov. John Baldacci.

Opponents of same-sex marriage in Maine said earlier this month that they have gathered enough signatures to place a people’s veto question on the ballot in November to repeal the law before it could be implemented. Episcopal clergy and lay leaders around the state are expected to oppose the repeal.

In a video message to his flock in Maine, a visibly tired Lane said late Wednesday that bishops “struggled” for two days “to come to terms with the changing cultural landscape” and to offer support to clergy who are asked to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies in states where gay unions are legal.

“We’ve invited the Anglican Communion to work with us,” the bishop said. “The resolution received overwhelming support in the House of Bishops. It remains to be seen how it will be received in the rest of the church, both here and around the world.”

Since 2003, when the U.S. church consecrated an openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, Anglican leaders have repeatedly urged the U.S. church to refrain from such steps and from further liberalization of its policies. That decision also played a role in the exodus of four dioceses and dozens of congregations. They formed a rival church last month.

Traditionalists said they believe the church was responding to cultural currents rather than relying on biblical authority to guide its policies. They predicted the loss of more churches.

“Those of us who remain will be a small minority,” Bishop Edward Little of the Diocese of Northern Indiana said before Wednesday’s vote. “I pray there is still room for us.”

The resolution passed by the bishops called for the church to “acknowledge the changing circumstances” in the United States and other countries that result from legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gays and lesbians. It says the developments “call forth a renewed pastoral re-sponse from this church” and for “theological and liturgical resources and liturgies for the blessing of same gender relationships.”

The measure also calls for Episcopalians to “honor the theological diversity of this church in regard to matters of human sexuality.”

BDN staff writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.

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