The House of Bishops has punted on the issue of gay marriage rites in the Book of Common Prayer, pushing the potential inclusion of gender-neutral marriage liturgies in the church’s authorized liturgy off until 2021.
The 6 July 2012 vote in the House of Bishops does not derail the issue of gay marriage liturgies, however, as other legislation remains pending before the 77th General Convention meeting 5-12 July 2012 that seeks to authorize “trial rites” for gay marriage. However, the special rules governing passage of trial liturgies makes passage of gay marriage rites uncertain.
In its afternoon session on the second legislative day, the Bishops received Resolution C105 entitled “Marriage Equality” from the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music Committee. The resolution asked the General Convention to “revise the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church with regard to marriage, to reflect the fact that some jurisdictions provide by law, or will provide by law, civil marriage or civil unions for same-gender couples.”
In its explanation for the resolution, C105’s sponsor – the Diocese of Maryland – stated that “since the state of Maryland, other states, and the District of Columbia have made civil marriage available to same sex couples and the 75th General Convention Resolution C056 called for generous pastoral oversight and liturgies to bless these unions, it is time for the Episcopal Church to revise its Constitution and Canons.”
The chairman of the Prayer Book committee, the Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith of Missouri, told the House the committee recommended that the General Convention take no action on this issue and refer the matter for study to one of the church’s standing committees.
The Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool, suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles, rose to speak in favor of the resolution and in opposition to the committee recommendation. She proposed a motion asking that the resolution be reassigned to a cognate committee for immediate action.
If passed to a committee for study, the earliest a report could be returned to the Church would be at the 2015 General Convention. Were the proposal to authorize gay marriages successful at each stage of the process, the earliest it could be implemented would be in 2021.
By sending it to a cognate committee for immediate action, were the resolution to be endorsed by the new committee, it could be passed by the 77th General Convention and the six year process of adoption of a new Prayer Book liturgy could begin.
The Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, Bishop of Springfield, urged the House to reject the Glasspool motion saying it conflicted with the bishops’ support for the creation of a task force to study the theology of marriage.
Resolution A050 “Create Task Force on the Study of Marriage” in part calls for church leaders to create a committee “to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage” and report to the 2015 General Convention.
By endorsing gay marriage rites before the committee had completed its study, the church would be adopting a political solution to a theological problem.
The Bishop of Colorado, the Rt. Rev. Robert O’Neill, rose in response to the motion and asked which committee, Constitution or Canons, Bishop Glasspool proposed as an alternate to the Prayer Book committee. After some hesitation, Bishop Glasspool responded Constitution.
The Glasspool motion was rejected, however on a voice vote and the Prayer Book committee’s recommendation that it be passed to a committee for further study was adopted on a voice vote.
Resolution C105 is not the principle legislative vehicle put forward by gay marriage advocates. Resolution A049 “Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships” asks the convention to authorize trial rites for gay marriage.
While a revision to the marriage liturgy in the Prayer Book requires support by two successive meetings of General Convention, a trial rite can be passed at one meeting. However, the rules governing resolutions proposing the adoption of trial rites have special terms. In the House of Bishops a majority of all bishops entitled to vote – both serving and retired – must endorse the measure. Those bishops not present at the meeting must still be counted in calculating what constitutes a majority.
With its approximately 305 members, A049 must secure 153 votes in the House of Bishops to be adopted. As of 6 July 2012, 165 bishops were present at the 77th General Convention, meaning 13 bishops voting against the measure could block implementation of trial rites for the blessing of same-sex marriage.