Contrary to present policy and the prevailing climate in the Episcopal Church, delegates from San Francisco Bay Area parishes have urged that their diocese give support to church ceremonies blessing homosexual couples already living in “committed” relationships.
But San Francisco Bishop William Swing, who has previously stated his opposition, said the resolution, approved on a 189-147 vote by diocesan convention delegates last weekend, does not allow him to violate national church standards.
“The church is very clear about its understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Swing, apparently referring to the quasi-wedding character of the proposed liturgies.
The resolution, similar to one that delegates defeated the year before, appeared to have no more effect than to express the sentiments of this year’s delegates, said Michael Hanson, executive officer of the San Francisco-based Diocese of California.
Nevertheless, Episcopal Church officials readily acknowledge that “blessings” are already performed for same-sex couples at some parishes in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas and in some other dioceses. The Los Angeles Diocese last year appointed a commission to study the issue along with other church-and-sexuality problem areas.
The Newark, N.J., Diocese, led by liberal Bishop John S. Spong, approved liturgies for such blessings last winter, not long after the Diocese of Massachusetts convention had split on the advisability of developing ceremonies--the clergy delegates favoring them and the lay delegates against the idea.
The resolution passed by the recent convention in San Francisco called for the diocese “to support liturgies for the open blessings of committed, loving couples of the same sex.” The resolution also stated, “The open blessings of same-sex couples affirms their validity and acceptance in the broader community and promotes the aceptance of God’s gift of diversity.”
Proponents of new church ceremonies argue that the AIDS epidemic, abetted in part by promiscuous homosexual sex, is an additional reason to encourage stable, committed relationships for gay couples.
“It seems to me a wise thing for the church to do,” said retired Bishop George Barrett, who lives in Santa Barbara. He added that people who favor such cermonies are concerned that the rites not be confused with marriage ceremonies.
“These couples need all the help they can get from the church and society to keep a committed relationship,” said Barrett, an ex-bishop of Rochester, N.Y., who continues to assist the Los Angeles Diocese in preaching and liturgical tasks.