In celebrating the legalization of same-sex marriage in Oregon, Bishop Michael Hanley of the Diocese of Oregon, has opened a conversation with the clergy of the diocese about whether it is appropriate for clergy to function as an agent of the state with regards to marriage.
Let me say here that I see the action of the state of Oregon as being a matter of justice and the ending of a practice that gave rights unequally to the dominate heterosexual majority and excluded a homosexual minority for no adequate reason. In the church there are issues to be considered that extend this debate beyond the issue of justice into the realm of theology and biblical interpretation. In the Episcopal Church today the majority have come to the conclusion that within these additional realms the work has been done to draw the conclusion that God is inviting the church to bless gay and lesbian couples who wish to live in a life-long covenant of marriage. We have approved a blessing rite for use with couples who seek this sacramental moment. There is also a minority who hold a divergent position and do not approve of this innovation. We continue to hold these positions in tension and with a generous pastoral spirit. Know also that not all gay and lesbian couples are seeking to be married by the state and thus we continue to live in a complex world where our assumptions need to be checked early and often.
Another discussion being held throughout the church today concerns the practice of clergy being agents of the state in the signing of any marriage license. In some dioceses clergy are being encouraged to consider ending the practice of being the agent of the state for any marriage they participate in. A best practice in this regard would be for a couple to be met at the back of the church by a justice of the peace, (in some cases a member of the local church!) The signing of the official state wedding license would occur there; the couple would be legally married and then process into the church for the church wedding service and the blessing of that relationship. This would clarify for all who attend the distinction between church and state. I invite you to consider this practice and to discuss this issue in clergy meetings. Please note, however, that you continue to be able to sign marriage licenses as you have in the past.
Read it all here.
The Diocesan policies, which indicate that this has been on Bishop Hanley’s mind from well before the court ruling this week, are found here.