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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Math: Civil Unions, Marriages and Parochial Reports

Over at our church offices, we're just finishing up our Parochial Reports, due to the National Episcopal Church Center by March 1st. That's been made much easier in the past few years because we can fill out the forms online and send them in electronically.

For those of you who may not know, Parochial Reports are due annually, required by Canon Law.

We are busy filling in numbers on the prescribed lines and were doing fine until we got to Marriages.

Well, we had 4 Civil Unions and 2 Marriages. Does that mean we had 6 Marriages or 2?

Here's the thing. In New Jersey, anyway, we have been carefully told that "Civil Union = Marriage." We're just calling it Civil Union (wink, wink) so as not to scare the homophobes or the 'traditional marriage' people. But, we know and you know (wink, wink) that we're really talking about 'marriage.'

Well, except that some corporations which have national headquarters in different states that do not recognize Civil Unions have denied domestic benefits to partners because they are not based in New Jersey and claim exemption from our law.

Why? Because it's not marriage, which must be recognized by all states. They're just Civil Unions that = Marriage only for those who say they do (wink, wink).

Here's another thing: The reason we, in The Episcopal Church at least, can perform Civil Unions is precisely because they are NOT Marriage, which would be against our canons which clearly state that "marriage is between one man and one woman."

And yet, Civil Unions are a clear example of the completely legal, civil and ecclesiastical clergy function in the dual (some might say 'schizophrenic') capacity as an agent of the Church and an agent of the State.

Civil Unions are recorded and recognized in the municipality where they are performed as well the State. Why not the church?

Are we having fun yet? Um, I don't know about you, but for me? Not so much.

So, I called our Diocesan Administrator to ask him. His first answer to the question was "Two." Okay, fair enough, but how do I record the Civil Unions? There's no line for it and the computer form does not allow us to alter the entries. If Civil Union = Marriage, why can't my answer be "Six"?

"Right!" He said, himself a gay man in a partnered relationship of over 30 years and in a Civil Union. "See?" he said, his frustration and anger rising to the surface of his normally very calm exterior, "this is just more evidence of the inequality of this law and the injustice of the church."

That was a far better answer than I got from a national official whose answer to the New Math question was also "Two." When I protested that in New Jersey we are told that "Civil Union = Marriage" he said, "Well, you can call a cat a dog, but at the end of the day, the cat won't fetch your slippers and your paper."

Of course, he's right but can't you just see the Milk of Human Kindness dripping from his lips? Is he completely insensitive to the fact that LGBT people are forced, by this computer form, to being invisible in the institutional reality, yet again? Does he not want to acknowledge the reality of the world, hiding behind the Great Cloud of Unknowing, or, at least, the rigidity of a computer form?

Wait a minute. Hang on. Don't bother. I think I know the answer.

It will be interesting to know what clergy in the Diocese of Massachusetts are doing. Marriage is legal there, but clergy can't perform them because it's against the canons of the church. Except, some of them have and have received a 'godly admonition' from their bishop. They've done it again and received yet another 'godly admonition.' And so it goes in the ecclesiastical version of 'Ring around a rosey'. You may remember that this childhood song ends with "We all fall down."

So, here's a shout out to anyone who's reading this who is clergy in one of those hand full of dioceses where Civil Union and/or Marriage are legal:

What are you doing about your Parochial Report? Are you counting Civil Unions as Marriage or not?

When you send in your signed "hard copy" will you add a separate line for Civil Unions, knowing they won't get any official recognition from the institutional church at the national level but our inclusion will force them to deal with our reality?

Shall we be bold for Jesus and add an additional line for Blessings of Same Sex Relationships and make 'em squirm?

To those of you who are not clergy in those diocese, what do you think?

Most importantly, to those of you who are LGBT people or our straight allies who are neither clergy nor laity in diocese where neither Civil Unions nor Marriages are legal, what do you think?

How would you calculate this "New Math"?

BTW, our Diocesan Administrator has put the question on the listserv for Diocesan Administrators and will discuss it in the morning with the bishop. I should have an update for you sometime tomorrow.

Ah, the church! If it's not a whirl, it's a tizzy, but you can always count on the drama.


Bill said...

I think the report should read 2 marriages and 4 people who mean absolutely nothing at all except possibly in the eyes of God. Maybe the form should have one column for "marriages" and one column for "Wink-Wink".
They just keep digging themselves in deeper and deeper.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Count them as marriages. The parties who entered into them certainly do---why shouldn't you?

God bless you, Elizabeth, for continuing to fight this fight.

Pfalz prophet said...

I like doxy's moxie, it was the law's intent to equate CUs with marriage and tiptoe around the homophobes. Put down "6". So what if Exxon won't honor the law, don't shop there anymore.

I disagree, Bill, no one is digging themselves in deeper. It's a form, it doesn't get changed until someone points out its inadequacies. Your solution, though, I could do. Add another underscore alongside the one for marriages and fill in "4". If you are feeling charitable, add a heading "Civil Unions" (or "CUs" if you wish to be inscrutable). Put the ball back in their court, let them struggle with the question whether to count you, Elizabeth, or leave you invisible. You're still a beautiful child of God, and a wonderful writer.