Same-Gender Blessing and Marriage
October 15, 2015
Dear Clergy of the Diocese of Oklahoma,
We live in a time of change, both with regard to the law of the land and the law of the Church, when it comes to same-gender marriage. Our most recent General Convention adopted two resolutions (A036 and A054) that further alter what is possible with respect to the sacrament of marriage in the Episcopal Church. While much has changed, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. So too, his call to discipleship remains unchanged, as he sends us out in mission to the world he died to save.
In a previous letter to you, I shared with you my votes on these two resolutions as well as my reasons for voting as I did. Allow me to reiterate some of what I said there. As your bishop, I continue to support our LGBT Members and their full access to the Sacrament of Marriage, even as I have misgivings about some of the liturgies proposed, certain features of the process, and the implications of our decisions within the Anglican Communion. I rejoice with those who rejoice, even as I take to heart the concerns of those who regret or are uncertain about these developments.
In the Diocese of Oklahoma, we will continue to respond in a principled and pastoral way to the needs of all the people and congregations we serve together as clergy. This includes our LGBT brothers and sisters and their families and friends, as well as congregations and individuals whose conscience may not permit them to embrace same-gender marriage or who may still be discerning what God requires of them. I am grateful for the work of a small committee I convened to advise about the policy changes we need to make in response to the actions of our General Convention. (The Rev. Dr. Bill Carroll, the Rev. Mary Davis, Mr. Gary Derrick, and Ms. Mary Susan Whaley.)
Resolutions A036 and A054 take effect on the First Sunday of Advent. In many ways, our policies remain unchanged. With certain limitations, clergy are already permitted to officiate at same-gender marriages in the Diocese of Oklahoma. In this letter, I'd like to bring to your attention certain features of revised policies which will take effect on November 29, 2015. The full policies will be posted on the diocesan website prior to that date.
Some of these changes pertain to all marriages, same-gender and opposite-gender alike. Others are particular to same-gender marriages. Where differences exist, this is due to the state of our canons and my commitment (under these same canons) to make pastoral provision for those whose consciences will not permit them to bless same-gender marriages. That being said, in these policies, I have striven to create as much parity as possible for same-gender and opposite-gender marriages. Here are the main points:
(1) As before, no congregation will be permitted to bless any same-gender marriage unless it has completed the mandatory congregational discernment process and received my written approval to proceed. This need only be done once per congregation.
(2) In addition to this, so long as the rites are approved for trial use, for each same-gender marriage, I will require advanced notification 30 days prior to the celebration. This is to assist me in my responsibility to report back to the General Convention about our experience with same-gender marriages. In response to feedback, I have changed what used to be framed as "permission" to "notification" and cut the time requirement in half, but I still do need to be notified.
(3) The same standards as for opposite-gender couples apply to same-gender couples with regard to seeking a Godly judgment, where one of the spouses has been married before. The sole additional requirement is that persons who were united in a prior civil union or same-gender blessing of a religious nature, which may have lacked any civil status at the time, shall also be required to apply for a Godly judgment. In some cases, alternative documentation of the dissolution of the relationship may be provided, where there was no legal marriage or divorce decree.
(4) The marriage canon (I.18), as amended by A036, requires a new form of the declaration of intent that must be signed by all couples, regardless of gender, after November 29, 2015.
(5) All three liturgies approved for trial use may be used for same-gender couples. One of these is a gender neutral version of Holy Matrimony, Rite Two, as found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. In addition, the two new rites may be used (with written notice to me thirty days prior) for opposite-gender couples who desire them.
As noted above, I have serious reservations about the newer rites. The main one concerns what I perceive to be a tendency to politicize the sacrament. My own personal preference, which I commend to the clergy, is to use either the 1979 marriage rite or its analogue as adapted for the needs of same-gender couples. But I will permit "trial use" of the other rites as adopted in resolution A054.
(6) One of the liturgies approved for trial use envisions the possibility of a marriage during a principal Sunday liturgy. I am directing clergy of the diocese not to conduct any marriages, same-gender or opposite-gender, during their regularly scheduled Sunday worship. If a marriage on Sunday is desired, it should be at another time.
(7) Since the new rites have not yet been published in the form in which they were adopted as amended, I am requiring that clergy use the rites as published on our diocesan website. As with all liturgies of the Church, I expect the forms adopted by General Convention to be used without alteration and the rubrics to be followed.
As mentioned above, the full versions of our new diocesan policies will be published on the website prior to November 29th. You will be notified when they are available. This letter is intended to give you some sense of where we are going and give you answers for couples who may come to you seeking the sacrament of marriage. Once again, my hope is to support the ministry of all our clergy and congregations in a way that is focused on Christ and his mission to the whole world.
Please be assured of my prayers for each of you and all the people and congregations we serve.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Edward J. Konieczny
Bishop of Oklahoma
More Communication from Bishop Ed:
- An Update on General Convention Resolutions - Same-Gender Marriage (July 15, 2015)
- A Letter from Bishop Ed Regarding Same-Gender Blessing and Marriage Legislation (June 30, 2015)
- A Statement from Bishop Ed Regarding Today's Decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (June 26, 2015)
- A Letter from Bishop Ed Regarding "Trial Use” of Same-Gender Blessing Liturgy (April 19, 2013)
Diocesan Polices and Resources:
- Policies and Procedures for the Blessing of Same-Gender Marriages (updated 11/15/15)
- Policy Regarding Mandatory Consultation Prior to Same-Gender Marriages (updated 11/15/15)
- Pastoral Guidelines Regarding Same-Gender Marriages For Clergy (updated 11/15/15)
- Declaration of Intention (updated 11/15/15)
- Notice of the Blessing of a Same-Gender Marriage (updated 11/15/15)
These rites are consistent with our diocesan policies, and remain the only approved rites for use in the Diocese of Oklahoma.
- Marriage Liturgy Adapted from 1979 BCP (recommended by the Bishop)
- Marriage Liturgy for Trial Use (permitted for "trial use" by the Bishop)
If you have any questions, please contact the Office of the Bishop at (405) 232-4820.