In its second day (delayed due to weather) the Diocese of Virginia Annual Council passed several resolutions including one on blessings and marriage. After several whereas clauses and resolves comes these recommendations:
1. Our Bishop is asked to impanel a group of clergy and lay people, including attorneys admitted to practice in Virginia and recognized experts on canon law, as well as knowledgeable clergy and lay representatives of a variety of theological perspectives on the issue of blessing same-gender relationships.
2. Such panel shall recommend consistent standards to be written into diocesan canons so that, if services of blessing same-gender unions are authorized, our clergy and people have a clearly understood and enforceable set of rules to guide the application of clergy discretion in providing pastoral care to same-gender couples seeking such blessings.
3. In formulating these recommendations, the following issues may be addressed (based in part on General Convention Canon I.1.18 and I.1.19):
(a) Whether individual members of the clergy have the right, as a matter of theological principle, to decline to conduct any such service, without adverse disciplinary consequences or personnel action;
(b) Whether individual members of the clergy have the right to decline to conduct such a service for a particular same gender couple, without adverse disciplinary consequences or personnel action, similar to the current rule for clergy asked to conduct weddings;
(c) The age, capacity and degree of kinship, if any, of the parties;
(d) The effect of prior marriages or unions blessed by a licensed clergy person or registered with civil authorities, the responsibility to any former spouse or partner in such union, and responsibility to minor children of any prior marriage or union;
(e) The appropriateness of advance medical screening, if any;
(f) The effect of any legal union or marriage entered into between the parties in another jurisdiction;
(g) The appropriate role of the Bishop for advanced review of any proposed blessing of a specific same-gender couple;
(h) Review of financial arrangements to protect the parties in the absence of state law presumptions governing married couples, presumptions intended to protect the weaker party from potential exploitation, oppression, or improvident action by the other party in the relationship;
(i) Other factors listed in the General Convention canons for marriage, Canons I.1.18 and I.1.19, including the baptismal status of the parties, the commitment to life-long union, the voluntariness of consent, the absence of coercion, fraud, mistake of identity of the other party;
(j) The minimum time line between notification of the clergy of a desire to obtain such a blessing and the performance of the ceremony;
(k) The number of witnesses and the record-keeping requirements for the clergy and any congregation involved;
(l) Any requirement for written affirmation by the couple that the commitment is to a life-long union;
(m) Any statement of the theological basis for the union to which the partners are to subscribe;
(n) Provision to address possible dissolution of a blessed same-gender relationship, including the considerations of factors enumerated in Canon I.1.19 to address marriages which are in distress or which have been terminated by a civil court, as well as the circumstances, if any, under which another same-gender relationship may be blessed where both partners to an earlier such relationship remain living;
(o) The restriction in the General Convention canon on marriage in the church to heterosexual couples;
(p) Whether any blessing service for same-gender union may be used in lieu of marriage for heterosexual couples under any circumstances, and if so, what those circumstances are;
(q) How these might apply to all members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans-gendered community;
(r) Any other factor deemed important by the panel.
3. If the Bishop appoints such a panel, the panel shall strive to deliver its report (including proposed canonical language) to the Executive Board by All Saints Day, 2010, in time for careful and orderly consideration of its recommendations by the 216th Annual Council of the Diocese. The panel is not to opine on whether the blessings of same-gender unions should be authorized, but it is to set forth its canonical recommendations to govern blessing such relationships if such services of blessing are authorized.
4. The consideration of any authorization for Virginia clergy to enter same gender unions should be deferred until after consideration of the preceding process.