Clergy in same sex relationships required to marry?

Mary Frances Schjonberg, Episcopal News Service, rounds up the news on the changes to the Church Pension Group benefit plans for married same sex couples as well as bishops’ reactions to changes in marriage equality laws:

When the state of New York allows same-gender couples to marry beginning July 24, some of the state’s Episcopal Church bishops are requiring their partnered clergy to avail themselves of the law.

And, the Church Pension Group said July 11 that it decided nearly a month ago to follow the requirements of the New York law and provide “parity of benefits for legally-married same-gender spouses.” A letter explaining the change was recently sent to all participants.

Clergy living in same-gender relationships in the Diocese of Long Island have nine months from July 24 to have their relationships “be regularized either by the exchange of vows in marriage” or live apart, Bishop Lawrence Provenzano announced in a July 8 pastoral letter setting out guidelines for implementing the new law.

Meanwhile, Manhattan-based Diocese of New York, Bishop Mark Sisk said in a letter to clergy about their options for marrying same-gender couples under the law that “in the spirit of the opportunity provided by this new law, it is my expectation that all those who are currently living in committed relationships, will, in due course, have those relationships formalized by the state of New York.”


Diocese of Rochester Bishop Prince Singh, a strong supporter of the law, told ENS via e-mail that he has commissioned a “Marriage Equality Task Force made up of thoughtful leaders to study, distill and provide me with options and guidelines to help us move forward with dignity and integrity.” Singh asked the group to provide their recommendations within the next four weeks.

[Bishop John] Chane [Diocese of Washington] told ENS in a telephone interview July 11 that he would “never, ever” require priests in his diocese who live in same-gender relationships to marry unless they wanted to.

To do so, he said, misses the fact that civil authorities have denied “basic human rights and privileges” to same-gender couples for years and now “it’s almost as if the straight community is once again telling gay people what they ought to do and I find that really somewhat troublesome.”

The Rev. Canon Mally Lloyd, Diocese of Massachusetts canon to the ordinary, said in a comment e-mailed to ENS July 11 that “in general the bishops’ practice during this time of transition and change has been to treat situations with pastoral care whenever possible because the fact that marriage is now legal for gay and lesbian people is a quantum shift in identity and possibility for many of them, and to put a timeline on a couple’s readiness for the sacramental rite of marriage when that has never been available to them before seems arbitrary and unpastoral.”

Read more here

The Lead’s previous story on the CPG decision is here.

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  1. I agree that the timeline is arbitrary. That said, the church really only blesses two kinds of sex: married sex and celibacy. What are the standards for unmarried straight priests? Is a priest who is straight allowed to live with a “partner”?

    Josh- please sign your name next time you comment.

    thanks ~ed.

  2. Matthew Buterbaugh+

    I figured this was bound to happen at some point. The only down side of same-sex marriage (and I say this as a big supporter of gay marriage) is that now the Church can continue to domesticate the issue. Marriage provides a safety net for sexuality in the church’s and society’s eyes. It puts otherwise healthy sexual relationships in their place. I tend to agree with Bp. Chane on this one that it’s straight people again telling gay people what they should be doing.

    I also tend to feel that by requiring gay and lesbian clergy to marry, we’re missing a big opportunity to have a mature conversation about clergy sexuality. Rather than saying this is our chance to think and talk about what we think about sex and the priesthood (which always is a discomforting issue), we’re just continuing to domesticate clergy, and keeping them in a safe, controlled place.

  3. Michael Russell

    I am sorry Bishop Chane, we cannot require any lay couple gay or straight to marry, but we have required straight folks in relationships to marry before ordination. Equality means equality. And so once the state finally comes around and helps us deal with the demand of our marriage canon, I think those who are in or seeking Holy Orders should be prepared to obey the order to take care of that civil piece of business.

    Or we remove the state marriage requirement from our canons, a move which I support, and only offer the sacramental rite.

  4. C. Wingate

    What exactly is referring to the married state as “domesticated” and “a safe, controlled place” a euphemism for?

  5. Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

    Given that the only authority that bishops have regarding the blessing of same-sex partnerships in jurisdictions that allow it is a “generous pastoral response” (or am I mis-remembering the resolutions from the last GC?), making it a deadlined requirement to “marry or be damned” based on the actions of the NY legislature and following years of prohibition is a bit “rich” as it were. Where is the “generous pastoral response” here? Before we start issuing new rules/regulations, perhaps we should ask what we may do to support LGBT clergy in relationships to make the potential change in relationship to “legal marriage.” What counseling and support is available for couples in this situation? Unless we provide that, this is no better than a “shotgun” wedding, as it were.

    The consequences of what might happen in a long-term relationship now suddenly on “different terms” should be weighed carefully. I think that this is a time to proceed gently and supportively, not with the big stick of “WELL, NOW YOU HAVE IT! GET MARRIED ASAP OR ELSE FACE THE CONSEQUENCES!”

    As an aside, I had also feared that something of this sort would start to happen. I wonder what I would do under such circumstances? After 23 years together with my partner, having a “wedding” seems a bit “after the fact” as it were. I might “do the deed” for the financial benefits, but there is a long and deep hurt here of having our relationships undervalued and misunderstood. We should be focusing on healing and support and helping the LGBT persons to understand how (if at all) their relationships might “change” when now sanctioned by state and church. Trotting out a deadline to “git ‘er done” is so insensitive, it bounds on cruelty. Bad move. (BTW, in Arizona, I don’t expect to have to make this decision anytime short of “Kingdom Come.” )

  6. Matthew Buterbaugh+

    I wasn’t trying to be euphemistic at all.

  7. revsusan

    Are we smack dab in the middle of that proverb about “living in interesting times” or what???

    When the Claiming the Blessing coalition formed in 2002 our focus was moving the church forward on the blessing of same sex relationships. Ten years later here we are — barely able to keep up with the paradigm shifting under our feet as both the church and the culture lurch along that arc of history bending toward justice for LGBT people.

    Thanks, ECafe, for this great update — which illustrates anecdotally how important it is that we move forward as a church on the issue of marriage equality.

    We’re back in Indianapolis next summer … the place where we voted in 1994 to end discrimination against sexual orientation in the ordination canons. So let’s invoke the good “canon karma” of Indianapolis and get to work ending discrimination against same-sex couples in our marriage canons.

    Let’s be a church that leads the way in protecting the sanctity of all marriages. Let’s be a church that embodies family values that value all families. Let’s be part of a National Organization for All Marriages.

    Anybody in? Operators are standing by. Call me.

    The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

  8. Christopher Evans

    This is why I really like the new policy of the ELCA on these matters. A candidate or pastor in a same-sex relationship is expected to solemnize her/his relationship to the maximum extent possible both civilly and ecclesially.

    I do find the tone problematic, however, for its demandingness. The Church has been slow to provide support in these matters and its leaders to come up after the fact of civil changes (while the changes within the church lag behind) comes off as a bit heavy handed.

  9. Gary Gilbert

    In the abstract, it makes sense to require clergy who have same-sex partners to get a civil marriage just like clergy with different-sex partners. But it fails to take account of the ongoing discrimination in the United States against same-sex couples. Making a binational same-sex couple marry, for example, puts the foreign spouse at risk of being deported. The federal government, remember, still ahs the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits it from recognizing a same-sex couple as a unit. Also, married same-sex spouses who move out of New York State to an unfriendly state where marriage and civil unions/domestic partnerships are not allowed or recognized could find themselves in a state which refuses to allow divorce if they should seek to end their marriage.

    It would make sense to wait till the day when same-sex couples can marry and have their marriages recognized by the federal government and all fifty states before requiring lesbian and gay clergy marry their spouses.

    Lawyers rather than bishops are more competent in the matter of the patchwork of laws recognizing same-sex couples in this country.

    It is also very hypocritical when all the bishops can offer these couples in church is a silly blessing of a union.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  10. If heterosexual couples are required to be married before ordination, then homosexual couples should be as well. Parity cuts both ways. As far as the time-line goes, I would think that waiting until General Convention 2012 is over (with the possible authorizing of rites of blessing and possible canonical changes) makes more sense then any arbitrary time-period.

  11. tgflux

    Argh, I can see this one both ways.

    I think Episcopal clergy (in same-sex relationships) SHOULD model marriage to the laity.

    …and on the other hand, we’re still in a betwixt&between state. DOMA is still the law of the land. Heck, some states still have SODOMY laws on the books! (even if they can’t be enforced) We can’t pretend that a NY (MA, IA, NH, VT, CT—plus 18K in CA) marriage for a same-sex couple really means “exactly the same” as marriage for an opposite-sex couple, legally.

    I don’t think bishops should rush to judgement on this. They should work w/ individual LGBT clergy, in their individual relationships.

    Having a SINGLE standard for LGBT and straight clergy SHOULD be the GOAL.

    But we’re not there yet.

    JC Fisher

  12. Elizabeth Kaeton

    Well, Ann, I see that ‘great minds think alike’. My blog offers a brief summary of each of the six statements make by each of the six bishops in the State of NY.

    It’s a very interesting exercise to hold each of the statements, side by each, and compare. I think what is revealed is an image of the present reality of The Episcopal Church. 5:1 in favor of Marriage Equality, with 4:2 without much of a clue what to do about all of that pragmatically and liturgically.

    Here’s the thing about “honest and fair” which is, apparently, the standard Bishop Provenzano is working from: The playing field is far from equal. So, how can anything be “honest and fair” in that context?

    For example, over at Father Jakes, Susan writes: “Demanding that LGBT couples marry or “union” often has negative consequences (based largely on DOMA), including increased tax liability, increased expenses, and my personal favorite, the ever-present threat that you need to file a gift-tax statement for the “rent” your same-sex spouse doesn’t pay you for the house you own in your name and live in together….yes, that really can happen.”

    Let me give you an example from my own life.

    If my Beloved and I, who live in the State of Delaware, where there is not presently but will be, effective January 1, 2011, Civil Unions (but not marriage), get married in New York (or anywhere where there IS Marriage Equality), neither our marriage nor our present NJ domestic partnership will be recognized by the State of Delaware.

    Indeed, even if we did marry in NYC, we would have to trade in both our NJ Domestic Partnership AND our NY Marriage Certificate for a Civil Union in Delaware.

    Yes, even though we were “legally married”, we’d have to apply for the Civil Union, go to our local Town Hall, and “get unionized”.

    But wait . . .there’s more . . . (here’s where the insanity begins) . . . the Church Pension Group will honor our Marriage Certificate in New York City because, well, because “marriage is marriage” and the law of NY is the law of NY and the CPG is based in Manhattan. That would be New York.


    Except, of course, for this little problem with the Federal Government which is still laboring under DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), even though the Obama Administration has ruled it ‘indefensible”.

    Oh, and the canons of The Episcopal Church and the rubrics of The Book of Common Prayer still define marriage as “between one man and one woman”.

    Stay tuned for a resolution to General Convention in 2012 to change those canons. You’ll be able to tell when that happens when the fireworks start in Indianapolis.

    So, I think requiring marriage “in due course” is the “honest and fair” pastoral response. If, in fact, that’s the standard from which we are working.

    Funny. I thought we were all about “justice and truth”.

  13. IT

    I have no objection, other things being equal, to expect that LGBT clergy marry!

    However, other things are not equal. Seems to me this is another fine example of why the church should advocate for the overturn of DOMA and civil marriage equality for all.

    -susan forsburg

  14. IT

    @Gary, you wrote:

    It is also very hypocritical when all the bishops can offer these couples in church is a silly blessing of a union.

    There is a formal BCP rite called “blessing of a civil marriage”. I don’t think that’s so silly, do you, really? I’m sure the many straight couples who have been blessed that way after civil marriage, think that it’s not silly. Nor the married gay couples who have been blessed.

    In some jurisdictions where civil marriage is legal (notably MA) , LGBT couple are being married in church.

    But finally, I think it’s really quite insulting to say to couples who cannot legally marry, that a blessing of their union in their faith community is “silly”.

    As long as “marriage” in this country conflates civil with spiritual, this is an inevitable conflict.

    It is certainly a call for the church to support civil marriage equality. Or disestablish itself from civil marriage.

    But there is no need to insult anyone who refuses to wait and instead chooses to meet the church where it is, by calling them “silly”.

    susan forsburg

  15. tobias haller

    Bishop Sisk shared his “expectation” that gay / lesbian couples who are living together should marry under civil law when it become possible — which I find entirely reasonable and consistent — years before it became a reality. He and his predecessor, Bishop Grien, have taken the time to meet with gay and lesbian clergy of the diocese every two or three months, over the last several years — starting after Lambeth 1998. His response is thus not a surprise, but a follow up on those earlier discussions.

    The NY Diocese also voted in its convention to urge passage of marriage equality. While a bishop cannot “order” clergy to marry, it is reasonable to “expect” them to do so if they are going to live together.

    Some of us had our relationships blessed by the church years ago — sub rosa and without formally approved rites, but blessed nonetheless. Priests are ordained to bless, and they don’t need a bishop’s permission to do so!

  16. Elizabeth Kaeton

    Here’s another reason for bishops to display “pastoral generosity” in terms of requiring marriage of Queer clergy – from a comment left on my blog:

    “Dear Bishops – please don’t mess where you don’t know what will happen – in the words of another blog I love – “Leave it lay where Jesus flang it.” My Social Security benefits and Medicare are federally funded. The feds won’t co-insure with a church plan for same sex partners, so I ended up getting my own additional insurance to cover. If my partner and I marry, she looses her ability to attach to her ex’s SS when she retires – and the pension we have been able to build over years of part time and decreased pay to lesbian priests (a whole nother rant) won’t keep a chicken alive. We need access to that money. We don’t want to marry – we blessed our covenant before the spirits of my parents, each other and God a long time ago. We do want the right to do so. And what happens as you change dioceses, as we do often in the interim plan? Just back off and let everyone live life as is best for them, between them and God.”

  17. Gary Gilbert

    Susan Forsburg, I should have avoided the use of the word “silly” in silly blessing of a union. Nevertheless, I find it totally unacceptable that a bishop of the Episcopal Church should mandate that a priest marry if he or she has a same-sex partner as long as the denomination withholds religious marriage from same-sex partners. Yes, legally married same-sex couples could ask the church to bless their civil marriages, just like legally married different-sex couples can do, but different-sex couples have the option of marrying in church and combining both civil and religious marriage. For that reason I would never ask for my civil marriage to be blessed.

    I don’t trust the church to offer advice on marriage or relationships at this point. Why bother?

    If all things were equal, which they are not, I might change my mind.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  18. Bob

    “Priests are ordained to bless, and they don’t need a bishop’s permission to do so!”

    Bravo, Fr. Tobias! Albany’s Bishop William Love needs to hear that message, loud and clear.

    Robert Dodd

  19. Martin Geiger

    Why exactly do we expect clergy couples (or anyone) to have a civil marriage license? For that matter, why do the canons require that marriages conform to the laws of the state? As Elizabeth and Susan point out, getting civilly married can put people in very difficult financial situations thanks to DOMA. But even setting that aside, I’ve never seen a clear explanation as to why state recognition should be viewed as a necessary component of Christian marriage.

    I may have misunderstood the canons, but I think that the state legality canon would mean that were GC to authorize a rite for same-sex marriage and remove the man/woman bit from the canons, the rite could only be used in states where same-sex marriage was legal. This seems more than a little odd.

    Obviously difficulties will continue as long as either state or church is fighting over same-sex marriage, but it seems like we could clear some of them up by decoupling civil marriage and the BCP rite.

  20. tobias haller

    Martin, you touch on the real issue here — the entanglement of church and state (in this matter alone) that we inherit from England. Were we French, or under Napoleonic law, none of this would be an issue.

    I fully support getting out of the state marriage business, and the church only offering the blessing — in keeping with the actual church teaching (in the West) that the couples are not married by the church, but marry each other. The church only blesses and witnesses. (And does the state thing where permitted to do so…)

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