Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 24
Bless youThe National Episcopal Church approves blessings of same-sex marriages
BY HENRY HOUSTON
A blessing for same-sex unions has members of the national Episcopal Church jumping feet first into the debate on gay marriage.
The blessing will only be binding in states where same-sex marriage is already legal, but it has nonetheless captured the attention of people across the country.
With same-sex marriage already legal in six states, and California’s controversial Proposition 8 heading to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Episcopal Church’s adoption of the blessing comes at the right time, according to Rev. Canon Deborah Dunn of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Santa Maria.
During the church’s triennial national convention, held this year in Indianapolis, Ind., the blessing received overwhelming approval: the House of Deputies, consisting of laypeople and clergy members, approved the blessing 171-50; and it passed through the House of Bishops, a collection of current and retired Episcopal bishops, 111-41.
“In six states, [gay marriage] is here. It’s legal. The convention had to act. If there isn’t a liturgical rite, it isn’t real,” Dunn told the Sun.
The blessing will be allowed for use in the church starting on Dec. 2, the first Sunday of Advent. But, despite the wide approval margin, there were staunch dissenters to the decision. At the convention, a 12-member group decried the passing of the blessing in a statement, dubbed “The Indianapolis Statement.”
“We believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that God’s vision for sexual intimacy is that it be exercised only within the context of marriage between a man and a woman,” the dissenters said in the statement.
The same-sex ceremony, the dissenters wrote, contains all of the elements of a traditional marriage ceremony: vows, exchanging of rings, a pronouncement, and a blessing.
The group said the blessing would place the Episcopal Church outside of the Christian mainstream, and would be viewed as an endorsement of same-sex marriage.
However, St. Peter’s Dunn said the blessing would not be the same as matrimony, which is still reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman. The blessing is a pastoral rite created for those within the church who have been unable to have a traditional marriage ceremony.
Episcopal priests and bishops won’t be forced to marry same-sex couples—just as they aren’t forced to marry straight couples.
Despite the current illegality of same-sex marriage in California, the passing of the blessing broaches the topic for discussion in the 1.96 million-member church, including parishes on the Central Coast.
Dunn said the almost four-month grace period before the blessing becomes official—and the assent of Proposition 8 to the high court—will allow time for those who either object to or are unsure of the same-sex blessing to become comfortable with it.
“I want to know where they are, so I know where to begin and what to work with,” she said. “Older people, the way they have been taught, have to drop a lot of baggage.”
To ease some members of her parish into the transition, Dunn is planning to have one-on-one and small-group discussions with members who want more information on the change. The discussion, she said, will ask, “How would you feel if St. Peter’s welcomed everybody?”
David Selberg, executive director at the Pacific Pride Foundation, sees Dunn’s talks as a positive thing for the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender (LGBT) community.
“[Previous generations] have dealt with the LGBT community in the past by treating them as if they were mentally ill,” he said. “It’s a good thing that dialogue is going on. We’d feel more comfortable in a church that affirms us. I was raised Catholic, and it doesn’t feel comfortable for me when I go in the church. But walking into an Episcopal church is welcoming. I feel more equal.”
And that’s the intention of the blessing. Dunn sees the blessing as a way for those in the church to stop hiding parts of their personal lives. She hopes this will put a stop to fear and misunderstanding.
“Do we really need to be scared of those two men and two women committing? It almost makes me want to laugh,” she said. “I mean, really? They want to [be in the church] with us, and we need to be scared?”
However, there will be some barriers that could keep the blessing from coming to the Santa Maria parish.
As Dunn works with members of the congregation, she’ll see how they feel about the blessing, and if they’re uneasy about it, she won’t perform the blessing at St. Peter’s. Additionally, there are limitations to whether a priest can actually perform the blessing: it needs to have the approval of the presiding bishop.
The talk of same-sex blessings prompted one congregation member to leave after asking Dunn whether she personally supports same-sex marriage, which she does. The Sun was unable to find more members opposed to the decision who were willing to go on the record.
Both Dunn and Selberg see the blessing as progress for human rights.
“The Episcopal Church has made a stunning movement in human rights,” Selberg said. “[The blessing] brings our unions into acknowledgement.”
The Episcopal Church will review the blessing at its next general convention in 2015.
Contact Contributor Henry Houston through the managing editor at aasman@santamaria sun.com.