When a federal judge in Wisconsin struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages last month, Episcopal dioceses in the state, none of which were permitting the blessing of same-sex relationships were thrown into a quandary. The new legal reality created pastoral challenges. Should the dioceses authorize its priests to bless the relationships of same-sex couples who were entering into civil marriages? Should the dioceses allow clergy to act as agents of the state in such marriages?
The judge has since stayed her ruling pending appeals, but the pastoral challenge isn’t going away, and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Milwaukee is facing into it. The Rev. Jonathan Greiser of Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, who has written about the difficult spot that clergy find themselves in, has an excellent summary of events to date. He notes that the Standing Commission asked parishes in the dioceses for feedback, and that most responded.
When looking at how these parishes break down in terms of average Sunday attendance, a total of 16.1% of total Sunday attendance were either generally or strongly opposed over against 59.7% of total attendance in parishes either generally or strongly in favor (with over 40% attendance in parishes strongly in favor). What both of these figures show is wide-ranging and overwhelming support for the trial rite.
Based on these findings, the Standing Committee made the following recommendation to Bishop Miller:
The Standing Committee recommends that Bishop Miller authorize a local option for a rite of blessing of same-gender couples living in committed, lifelong, covenant
relationships. A local option would give permission for individual clergy of the diocese to decide to use the rite or not in his or her own parish.
Bishop Steven Miller had expressed reservations about blessing same sex relationships, saying he thought that blessing relationships might delay the day on which Christian marriage was available to all.
Last June, the bishop decided not to authorize the rite for same-sex blessings for use in his diocese, but said he would allow couples seeking to have their relationships blessed do so in the Diocese of Chicago, which permits the use of the rite.
What do you think the diocese should do?