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CPG does right thing, hopes no one notices

CPG does right thing, hopes no one notices

Mark Harris received a letter last week from the Church Pension Fund. (Updated: the letter is now online.) Mark writes:

In June the Church Pension Fund Trustees voted that the Pension Fund would begin providing “parity of benefits for legally-married same-gender spouses,” to come into effect July 1, 2011. The CPF sent out a letter to that effect this last week.

The letter speaks specifically of marriage, there is no mention of civil unions. It says, “under the laws of the State of New York, employers subject to New York State law must recognize same-gender marriages that are validly solemnized within or outside the State of New York for the purposes of providing benefits to employees.” What then happens to those in a civil union, the purpose of which is to provide all the benefits of marriage?

Well, it will have to be worked out.

The Church Pension Fund has done a good thing by extending benefit parity to same-gender spouses. But as is its wont, it has done so very quietly. Maybe too quietly.

There are, as Mark notes, a number of issues that need to be worked out, some of which might benefit from a public conversation, but such conversations can’t occur if very few people know that the policy has been changed.

And very few people do know because CPG hasn’t put out a media release. It did send around a release about its new website–which looks very good, except for the fact that it has no identifiable news section.

I have no sense that anything is amiss at the Pension Fund. I admire many of its directors, and count some as friends. I respect the good work CPG does through the many organizations it sponsors such as CREDO, Church Publishing and others. But, as we noted in May, CPG sits on the biggest pile of money in the church–money that many parishes strain to send its way. Its leadership regularly makes decisions that affect large numbers of Episcopalians directly or indirectly. Yet it releases precious little information to the people who donate the money it invests, and little of what is released gets out there in what nowadays would be considered a timely fashion.

At a time when money is tight, increasing numbers of parishes can’t afford clergy, and almost everyone is nervous about a) their retirement and b) the future of various programs and ministries within the church, an organization that behaves in this fashion eventually undermines public trust.

CPG ought to consider opening up a little bit.


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Gary Gilbert

The Church Pension Fund is at least six years behind the times with New York State because New York has been recognizing marriages of same-sex couples performed elsewhere. Civil

unions are also beginning to be recognized. My suspicion is that they are merely doing what they are required to do under the new domestic relations law in New York State. More of that later.

It seems cruel, however, to mandate that priests in same-sex relationships get married in order to get benefits because many states do not offer marriage. Civil unions in the East and state domestic partnerships in the West are almost marriage and same-sex couples with such contracts should also get benefits.

Same-sex couples living in jurisdictions which have

denied the ability to marry or recognition of their marriages could always marry in a jurisdiction

which allows same-sex couples to marry. They could go to Canada, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, or Washington, DC.

Because on the ongoing discrimination against same-sex couples in the United States, mandating marriage for same-sex couples could create problems for certain couples. A binational couple, for example, would risk having one of the spouses deported if they marry, given the federal Defense of Marriage Act which prohibits the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples. A married same-sex couple living in an unfriendly state might have trouble if they ever tried to divorce. One of them would have to move to a friendly state before seeking a divorce.

Same-sex couples who married elsewhere were already recognized as married in New York State. But the Governor’s marriage equality law now says that the state must treat all marriages, whether of different-sex or same-sex couples, the same. Now married same-sex couples will be able to file their state income taxes jointly, whereas before New York sent by the federal filing status. I think the CPF is merely doing what they must do under current New York State Law.

“No government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage, whether deriving from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy, common law or any other source of law, shall differ based on the parties to the marriage being or having been of the same sex rather than a different sex. When necessary to implement the rights and

responsibilities of spouses under the law, all gender-specific language

or terms shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner in all such

sources of law.

* NB Effective July 24, 2011”

New York State Domestic Relations Law, Article 3, Section 10a

Gary Paul Gilbert

Paige Baker

This news is the kind of thing that reminds me of why I’m so glad to be Episcopalian. (Even if I’m always saying we should blow our horn a little louder…)

And that has to be the best headline I’ve ever seen on the Cafe. 😉

Jim Naughton

Tom, the pension fund functions fine, if you are a clergy person receiving an 18 percent pension, somewhat less well if you are a lay person receiving a benefit only half as generous, and maybe not so well at all if you are a lay person whose parish is closing because it can’t afford to pay a clergy pension, and whose own retirement is less secure than those of us lucky enough to be receiving something from CPG.

It isn’t asking very much to suggest that an organization which receive significant resources from the cash-strapped people in the pews inform those people in a timely fashion when it makes make significant decisions.

Press releases that convey such information are not a dime a dozen.To those who believe that large institutions that exercise tremendous influence within the Church need to be held to certain standards of accountability, they are priceless.

Tom Sramek, Jr.

First, a small correction: No one “donates” money to the Church Pension Fund–they are required to contribute. I’d personally favor a gradual decrease of 1% a year from the current 18% to 10%, but no one’s asked me.

I’m actually pretty fine with the Church Pension Fund being in “stealth mode” most of the time with respect to the rest of the church. With public statements being a dime a dozen, and everyone needing to put their two cents in on most every issue, the Church Pension Fund quietly does what they are supposed to do: assure pensions are paid to clergy at retirement. It’s a little more problematic with things like the Church Medical Trust and Church Publishing (all three being part of the Church Pension Group), which have a much more public role.

As much as many would like to “get our hands on” some of the money they have, and as frustrated as I’ve occasionally been at their single-minded focus on their “fiduciary responsibility” to retirees, the Church Pension Fund is arguably one of the most stable, least controversial institutions of the church.

Ann Fontaine

+Michael Hanley of Oregon told the clergy at our conference that he expects clergy in a committed relationship to be married or have a Domestic Partnership agreement (Oregon does not have marriage equality yet). He said churches can do blessings under the “generous pastoral response” clause from GC 2009 – but as with the current canons – no priest or deacon has to perform any marriage or blessing.

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