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Clergy in same sex relationships required to marry?

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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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…)

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.


“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

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

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.”

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