I was afraid of this

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.

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  1. RMF

    Good point, Jim. Refusing to perform marriages is only going to drive couples to other churches and make some parishes look, um, a bit odd.

  2. As a gay person who has sought and recieved the celebration of her parish for her union of 27 years with her partner, I cannot see any reason why churches should have any role in propping up the discriminatory nonsense that the State makes of marriage. Why in the world should a person’s ability to maintain a pair bond be the determinant of whether she can get health insurance? That’s the kind of maze that religious licensing of civil marriage gets the Church into. I am thrilled with this initiative by some Episcopal clergy in Mass. to get out of the CIVIL marriage business.

  3. pam

    I do believe that in this pluralistic country there should be a differentiation between the government authorization of a bond with all the legal rights and responsibilities attached and the churches’ blessing of the union.

    This is, however, an area where the mixing of Church and State has historically been so entwined that no matter which side tries to make the separation it will cause anger. And, which side gets to keep the magic word “marriage”?

    I think Massachusetts’ clergy are making a principled decision. Whether it is the right decision, I do not know.

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