“A thing to be celebrated”

Bishop Alan M. Gates and Bishop Gayle E. Harris of the Diocese of Massachusetts issued a statement on the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality this morning, saying:  “We greet with joy the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the right of same-sex couples to marry throughout the United States. This is a fundamental matter of equal treatment under the law, with profound implications for the ways in which couples and their families are supported in their life together by societal structures. We are deeply grateful that such equal treatment has now been affirmed by our nation’s highest court.”  Read the whole statement here.

The Supreme Court decision comes as General Convention deliberations get underway on changing the Episcopal Church’s marriage canon.

On the evening of June 25, the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage held a one-hour hearing—its second—on five resolutions suggesting changes to the church’s marriage canon.

The proposals would remove gender-specific language from the canon, and would streamline and reorder it to follow actual pastoral practice more closely and to focus less on the purposes of marriage in general and more on the vows actually found the Book of Common Prayer rite, according to the Rev. Brian Taylor, Chair of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.

“What it does do by using gender-neutral language is open the door, so that should we authorize new rites or should continue with the generous pastoral response option, their use would be supported canonically,” Taylor said at the hearing.

More than 300 people filled a hotel ballroom for the hearing. Twenty-two people offered testimony, 16 in support of the various proposals and six against.

Speaking in support of the changes, the Rev. Susan Russell said that the Episcopal Church has been working toward this moment for 40 years. “It is time to let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and change the canons to end what is nothing less than de facto sacramental apartheid for same-sex couples seeking marriage in the Episcopal Church,” Russell said.

The Rev. Jim Papile, alternate deputy from the Diocese of Virginia, also urged support. “For all our trials, I believe we are a stronger church today than before. We can deal with the challenges if we will do what is right. We are so close. It’s time for us to finish this thing and get on with building the body of Christ, all of us together,” he said.

The Ven. David Collum, a deputy from the Diocese of Albany, spoke against the measures, asking that the church’s unity and allowance for diocesan discretion be taken into account.

Referencing the rite for blessing same-sex unions that the General Convention approved in 2012, for use at the discretion of local bishops, Collum said, “It’s hard to be a gay or lesbian person in the Diocese of Albany because we’re not using that rite. It’s hard for people who are on the other side of the issue because we’re still talking about it. It’s tough. But we’re talking,” Collum said. “I would just ask that any resolution you put forward to advance this agenda, think about the unity of the church in addition to how important this specific issue is.”

His colleague, the Rev. Canon Robert Haskell, Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Albany, said the changes would amount to the Episcopal Church “turning its back on 2,000 years of Scripture, history, the history of the church’s interpretation of marriage.”

“It breaks my heart to see this church, the wonderful Episcopal Church that I love, departing from this,” Haskell said.

Bishop Shannon Johnston of the Diocese of Virginia spoke against canonical changes and urged instead revision of the church’s prayer book and constitution as a stronger and better means for accomplishing the task force’s goals. “I want to say first of all that I am absolutely and utterly committed to full marriage equality in the life and witness of the Episcopal Church, full stop,” he said. “I want the strongest possible witness this church can make for marriage equality, and doing it simply by canonical means, I think, is the weaker case.”

The committee holds its third and final hearing tonight before reporting its resolutions out for initial action.

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