The recent decision of the Supreme Court, not to review the rulings of lower courts on the legality of same gender marriages, has altered our reality in the State of Indiana. Same gender marriages are now legal in our State. Some among us are elated, believing this should have happened long ago. Others are dismayed and angry, believing that marriage is diminished in some way by this change. Others are simply bewildered and not quite sure how they feel about it. No matter what a person feels about this change, it has happened – it is part of the reality of life in the world around us.
What follows here are some reflections on the situation, and my counsel for our clergy and parishes.
First, it is important to remember that legality does not equal a mandate; clergy have always used pastoral judgment in agreeing to prepare any couple for marriage in the Church, or to decline to do so. Even our own members cannot demand that clergy perform a marriage rite with them. So the legal possibility of marriage – for any couple – has never been a guarantee of involvement on the part of this Church.
Second, though The Episcopal Church has a provisional rite for the blessing of same gender couples, to be used only with the permission of a Bishop Diocesan, it is abundantly clear that the Church remains divided on the issue. Not all clergy are able, in good conscience, to make use of this rite, even if their bishops do grant permission.
Third, a priest and the parish s/he serves and leads may be in very different places regarding same gender marriage, and these differences need to be taken seriously.
In the past, I have permitted the blessing of same gender unions in parishes meeting several criteria:
the parish must have studied and come to considerable consensus that such blessings are desirable – and would not prove divisive to the parish,
the couple must be known in the parish (as we would hope any couple seeking marriage in the Church to be),
the couple must have at least as much, if not more, pre- counseling as a heterosexual couple,
I wanted to review the liturgy the couple proposed to use. General Convention approved a provisional liturgy for use with the permission of Bishops Diocesan, and that is the liturgy which is now used in the Diocese of Indianapolis.
In those counties which issue marriage licenses to same gender couples these guidelines remain in place.
I would expect that clergy whose personal consciences will not permit them to officiate at same gender weddings will arrange for such couples who attend their parishes to be helped by clergy colleagues who are willing to preside.
All members who have been legally married must be acknowledged as married in any parish of this diocese.
I further urge any of our parishes which have not yet provided a study of the issue for their members to arrange to do so during the coming year. Whether or not there are any same gender couples in the congregation, whether or not a priest feels able to preside, same gender marriage is now a legal reality, and the Church as a whole can benefit from reflection on the meaning of marriage, how the provisional rite meets the needs of same gender couples (or not) and what is at stake when decisions about same gender celebrations are made.
As the Body of Christ we must make room for those who disagree with us, and with humility concede that the Church cannot afford to claim perfection of understanding and practice in any age. We are obliged to reflect continually on what is happening around us, and whether or not the Spirit of God is calling us to embrace new ways or to hold fast to old ones. We must have the generosity of spirit to travel together with good cheer and holy hope, remembering that, as William Temple so aptly put it, “When we choose wisely God reigns, and when we choose foolishly, God reigns!”