Clergy in same sex relationships required to marry?

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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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Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.
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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." )

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C. Wingate
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C. Wingate

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

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Michael Russell
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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.

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Matthew Buterbaugh+
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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.

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Josh
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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.

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