Drop in on Beliefnet this evening and you find the headline: Episcopalians May Say No to Weddings. The link leads to this story from G. Jeffrey MacDonald of Religion News Service, which begins: “Episcopal clergy in Massachusetts would give up their centuries-old authority to conduct marriage ceremonies under a new proposal aimed at leveling the playing field for gay couples seeking a church blessing.”
I've already mentioned that I think this is a bad idea, but I didn't discuss this initiative's potential for negative publicity.
The Episcopal Church can, in time, win the debate about same-sex blessings, and eventually, perhaps, the debate about gay marriage if it makes clear its desire to open a cherished institution to a population that has been unfairly denied admission. This is, essentially, a conservative, pro-marriage argument, and it has been embraced by numerous high-profile conservatives, including Andrew Sullivan and David Brooks.
The Episcopal Church will lose the debate about same-sex blessings if it appears to be undermining the institution for political purposes, and it will lose the support of many—perhaps most, of the people in its pews, if it appears to downplay the sacred nature of the lifelong commitment spouses make to one another.
Whatever worthy goals the folks who back this initiative hope to achieve, what they have achieved so far is a headline that reads: Episcopalians May Say No to Weddings. And that hurts.