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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Freedom from Religion?

I've been watching the effects of the recent Marriage Equality in New York State in the six Episcopal Dioceses there. It presents an interesting snapshot of the Episcopal Church with regards to its theology of marriage as well as its understanding of the Christian understanding of justice, pastoral generosity and radical hospitality.

The six Episcopal Dioceses in New York are New York (Sisk), Long Island (Provenzano), Western New York (Franklin), Rochester(Singh), Central NY (Adams)  and Albany (Love).

Five of the six bishops are supportive of Marriage Equality, with different shades of gray defining them and their definition of the canons of The Episcopal Church.

The one who isn't supportive is very clearly not supportive.

So, here's a very brief summary of where everyone is, to date.

Bishop Larry Proenzano
On July 8th, Bishop Larry Provenzano in Long Island issued a "A Theological Perspective and Practical Guideline on Marriage in the Diocese of Long Island."

Provenzano has been supportive of Marriage Equality and is permitting the clergy in his diocese to preside at and bless the marriages of ALL people, and function as an agent of the state in terms of signing the marriage certificate.

In the spirit of 'sauce for geese and gander', the bishop has announced that all clergy - gay or straight - who are living with a partner have nine months (from July 9th) to be legally and sacramentally married.

He writes, "I deem it to be honest and fair, and I do so direct and require, now that it is legal, that only married couples may live together, either in rectories or elsewhere as a clergy couple living in the midst of our faith community.

What's 'honest and fair' to one is not so much to others.

Bishop Mark Sisk
Bishop Mark Sisk, of the Diocese of NY, said in a letter to clergy about their options for marrying same-gender couples under the law that "in the spirit of the opportunity provided by this new law, it is my expectation that all those who are currently living in committed relationships, will, in due course, have those relationships formalized by the state of New York."

Sisk said, "This is an especially high priority for priests and deacons because in their ordination vows they promised to pattern their lives and that of their families and households "in accordance with the teachings of Christ" so that they may be "a wholesome example" to people.

"... in due course".

Is that more "honest and fair"?

Here's why I raise the question.  Over at "Friends of Jake, Susan writes,
"Demanding that LGBT couples marry or "union" often has negative consequences (based largely on DOMA), including increased tax liability, increased expenses, and my personal favorite, the ever-present threat that you need to file a gift-tax statement for the "rent" your same-sex spouse doesn't pay you for the house you own in your name and live in together....yes, that really can happen."
Bishop Tom Shaw
Allow me to jump over to my home state of Massachusetts where they have been living with Marriage Equality since 2004. It might be interesting to see how one diocese is living with the reality of a still un-level playing field.

The Rev. Canon Mally Lloyd, Diocese of Massachusetts canon to the ordinary, Bishop Tom Shaw, said in a comment e-mailed to ENS July 11 that
". . . in general the bishops' practice during this time of transition and change has been to treat situations with pastoral care whenever possible because the fact that marriage is now legal for gay and lesbian people is a quantum shift in identity and possibility for many of them, and to put a timeline on a couple's readiness for the sacramental rite of marriage when that has never been available to them before seems arbitrary and unpastoral."
In 2004, the State of Massachusetts was the first state to issue licenses for same-gender marriages. The diocese does not have a written policy on the issue.

"We feel it is important to hear the voices and experiences of gay and lesbian people on this subject, and that takes time," Lloyd continued. "The standard here has been that unmarried people should not live together in church-owned housing, but there is no written policy.”

Bishop Prince Singh
Meanwhile, over in the Diocese of Rochester, "the bishop formerly known as Prince" Singh, a longtime advocate for Marriage Equality has issued a statement which clearly celebrates the new law in the State of New York.

He writes,
"I want to assure members of my Diocese that no priest will be forced to bless the civil marriage of the LGBT parishioners. We already practice a provision in our polity that does not mandate a priest to officiate in the marriage of a heterosexual couple for any reason. I will be setting up a task force in our Diocese to help us chart our course to engage this journey reverently, deliberately and in congruence with Church Law. I pray that the all New Yorkers, those who support and those who oppose this Act, will celebrate the fact that the human rights of a community have been affirmed by the state. Since no one is free until everyone is free, Marriage Equality takes us closer to our pursuit of a more wholesome society".
Apparently, the task force is expected to report its findings and recommendations to the bishop within a four week period of time. Until then, I'm told, clergy are not compelled into a 'shotgun wedding' and are free to preside at and bless marriages - but, wait for it - not sign the marriage certificate.

Someone has been spending too much time with his Chancellor, me thinks.

Okay, NY is a Very Big state. Hang in there with me. We've just three more bishops and dioceses to go.

Bishop 'Skip' Adams
In the Diocese of Central New Your, Bishop Gladstone B. ("Skip") Adams III wrote, in a pastoral letter dated June 27th, that "I am hereby giving permission, deferring to your pastoral judgments and local application, for the possibility of you presiding over same-gender marriages."

He also wrote:
"The people of Central New York are not of one mind on this matter. The decision of the State has prompted rejoicing for some and deep sadness for others.  This is true among the faithful of our Diocese and my own decision as Bishop will cause similar response.  Whatever your response to these decisions, I encourage you to be measured as you care for one another, for as a community of faithful people in Christ, we are still called to support one another as we seek to be "The passionate presence of Christ for one another and the world we are called to serve."
Nothing about signing the marriage certificate or the expectation of LGBT clergy who are living with a partner to marry.

Apparently, the bishop will take up the conversation with diocesan clergy in October.

Bishop William Franklin
In the Buffalo-based Diocese of Western New York, Bishop William Franklin, also welcomed the new law.

Franklin said he is writing a policy statement for the diocese, which will be issued before the law goes into effect.

That works comes as the bishop finished a series of meetings with various groups of clergy and diocesan leaders to listen to their views on the topic of marriage equality.

No word, as yet, as to any of the particulars of what that policy will look like in terms of LGBT clergy living together in the rectory or elsewhere in the community, or whether or not clergy can preside and officiate at marriages and whether or not they can act as agents of the State of New York and sign the marriage certificate.

In his statement, Franklin wrote:
I personally see gay marriage as a matter of human rights and social justice. I believe today’s vote in the New York State legislature to approve gay marriage was the right thing for the legislature to do, and I welcome the decision. At the same time, I recognize that there are many in our community who disagree. Their thoughts, like my own, are prayerfully and honestly held and deserve to be heard respectfully.
 Is that  "honest and fair"?

Bishop William Love
I hate to end on a sour note, but I'll conclude this brief survey with Bishop William Love of Albany, who obviously defines "honest and fair" in a manner most peculiar to Christian love.

Bishop Love issued a Pastoral Letter which was to be read in all congregations on Sunday, July 3.

Openly Episcopal in Albany reported the response in one congregation in that diocese:
When the letter noted that "New York has now joined five other states in redefining marriage," there was loud and sustained applause from the congregation. Where the letter referred to diocesan canon that "specifically bars any other union" than that between one man and one woman, there arose an audible hiss. When the Bishop expressed his expectation that all "the clergy and laity of the Diocese Albany" will support him in upholding diocesan canon over the law of New York, more than one head was shaking in disbelief.
The resolutions which changed diocesan canon were previously reported by Openly Episcopal:
Resolution #5 passed, but the number of votes for and against were not noted. This is the amendment to Diocesan Canon that bans the celebration or blessing of a marriage "or any other union, except between one man and one woman." The associated Resolution #6 was also adopted. In a vote by orders, clergy weighed in with 110 yeas, 9 nays. the lay delegates voted 70 for and 20 against, with 4 abstentions. This was the amendment of canon which specifies that "a member of the clergy must live within the covenant of Marriage between one man and one woman."
So, there is Marriage Equality in New York, but in at least one diocese in that fair state, while the principle of 'religious freedom' has been upheld, there is no freedom from religion to continue to oppress based on prejudice and bigotry.

As I look at the whole picture, I'm struck by the celebratory but deeply cautionary tone taken by these bishops.  I suppose that is to be expected, given the present reality of our canon law.

I'm also deeply struck by the fact that, with five "yeses"  - one with clear polices and four "in process" - and one firm, clear, absolute, resounding "No way, Jose" - this presents a pretty clear reflection of the present reality of The Episcopal Church.

It bodes well for General Convention to accept the work done by the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to work with the House of Bishops to collect and develop theological resources and liturgies for blessing same-gender relationships.

The commission is to report to the 77th General Convention in 2012 in Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, the Church Pension Group wrote in a July 11th statement that it decided nearly a month ago to follow the requirements of the New York law and provide "parity of benefits for legally-married same-gender spouses." A letter explaining the change was recently sent to all participants.

The CPG wrote:
" . . . under the laws of the State of New York, employers subject to New York State law must recognize same-gender marriages that are validly solemnized within or outside the State of New York for the purposes of providing benefits to employees."
The rule changes apply to participants in the Church Pension Fund Clergy Pension Plan, the defined-benefit Episcopal Church Lay Employees' Retirement Plan and the Church Pension Fund Clergy Post-Retirement Medical Assistance Plan (known as the Medicare Supplement Benefit).

So, here's the deal: If Ms. Conroy and I, who live in the State of Delaware, where there is not presently but will be, effective January 1, 2011, Civil Unions (but not marriage), get married in New York (or anywhere where there IS Marriage Equality), neither our marriage nor our present domestic partnership will be recognized by the State of Delaware.

Indeed, even if we did marry in NYC, we would have to trade in both our NJ Domestic Partnership AND our NY Marriage Certificate for a Civil Union in Delaware.

Yes, we'd have to apply for the Civil Union, go to our local Town Hall, and "get unionized".

But wait . . .there's more . . . (here's where the insanity begins) . . . the Church Pension Group will honor our Marriage Certificate in New York City because, well, because "marriage is marriage" and the law of NY is the law of NY and the CPG is based in Manhattan. That would be New York.


Except, of course, for this little problem with the Federal Government which is still laboring under DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), even though the Obama Administration has ruled it 'indefensible".

Oh, and the canons of The Episcopal Church and the rubrics of The Book of Common Prayer still define marriage as "between one man and one woman".

Stay tuned for a resolution to General Convention in 2012 to change those canons. You'll be able to tell when that happens when the fireworks start in Indianapolis.

The Anglican Covenant Contract will simply have to wait. You know. Just like the rest of us are waiting for the church to recognize and celebrate and bless Marriage Equality. Which, of course, would be 'an offense in the Anglican Covenant Contract which would have "relational consequences".

Until then, of course, Ms. Conroy and I would be legally married in NY where the State would recognize our marriage but neither the State of Delaware nor The Episcopal Church would or could, but we would be married in the eyes of the Church Pension Group.

And you thought being Queer was for sissies.

One would think that the Church would be ashamed of itself.

Imagine! State governments are changing the laws in the name of "justice and freedom for all" but the Church, which is supposed to have been built on the justice of God is still "listening" and "praying" about what to do.

I suppose one could applaud the good bishops for being "wise and prudent" men who are "listening to the will of the people" before setting policies and procedures into place.

I know. I understand. I've been in the church most of the whole of my life. I've been ordained for 25 years. I get it. This is the way the institutional church works.

You'll excuse me if I hold the applause. Indeed, you'll understand if I pull the plug on the blinking 'Applause' sign - at least the one in the church sanctuary.

Discrimination is very ugly. It is hideous when dressed in religious garb, posing as "God's plan" and "the will of God for you in your life."

Some of you are sighing disgustedly and asking, "Oh, for goodness sake, Elizabeth! Won't you ever be happy? You're side has won. Is winning. Just be patient. What more do you want?"

Oh, I don't know. How about this?

I suppose I not only want 'freedom of religion' but freedom from prejudice that masquerades as religion - especially those who profess to follow in the footsteps of Christ Jesus.

I've been waiting for the justice of Marriage Equality for a long time.

Indeed, if you had asked me thirty-four years ago when we lost custody of our kid solely based on the fact of our sexual orientation, I never would have guessed that the very state that took away our parental custody would be the first to enact Marriage Equality.

There's a lovely poetic justice about that - one I truly celebrate.

Just please don't expect me to fully rejoice until Marriage Equality is the law of the land for everyone. Everywhere. 

And.... and.... AND . . . that every Christian, Muslim, Jew and any other religious denomination can celebrate and bless that which God has brought together and no one should cast asunder.

At that time,  I will raise my voice with all the choirs of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven and sing at the top of my throat and from the bottom of my heart, "Glory, glory Hallelujah!"

Until then, I will continue to follow Mother Jones' advice:

"Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."

I at least still have that right.


Episcopaliann said...

Hi Elizabeth--Thanks for this excellent post. There is one more bishop in NY State, The Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams, III, of the Diocese of Central NY. You can find his response to the NYS Marriage Equality Act here:

Peace and all good, ~Ann+

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, right you are. I will update this and correct that oversight. Damn! I'm glad you caught it.

Paul said...

Thank you for noticing the error. It has been a long time since I have lived in Syracuse, so I was a little concerned that the Diocese of Central New York might have gone away. Glad to see it is still alive and kicking.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Paul - it's alive but I don't know about 'kicking'. I think, of all the statements from all six bishops, the one from CNY is really the weakest.

Yes, it's a start. Yes, it's a step in the right direction. I guess I'm tired of applauding the teeny tiny steps taken by straight, mostly Caucasian, able-bodied, well educated, exceedingly well paid men.

Why do we continue to applaud mediocrity in the church when the standard is clearly excellence?

I hope these five guys will be out there and vocal on the overturn of DOMA.

Matthew said...

As I recall when they first proposed blessing ceremonies, it was not necessarily just for the gays. I recall a bishop telling me you could have an older couple (one widowed) and they want this liturgy because they don't want to get married because one would lose pension or some other benefits. Am I right about that? Anyone else recall that justification? So, the way I read things on Long Island, a priest in that lifestyle cannot be a priest any longer -- you have to marry. How odd. And what about a priest in a romantic relationship with a first cousin. Such marriages are legal in some states and not in others.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - First, a gentle correction: I don't have a 'lifestyle'. I have a life.

Yes, I do remember hearing some bishops justifying blessing of covenants based on their experience with heterosexual couples. That's fine. I think it has lots of applications. We're talking about 'blessing covenants' - not lifestyles or sexual acts. This is what the church is supposed to be about - blessing covenants.

Finally, I think the issue is that, until DoMA is repealed, the playing field is far from level. There are serious considerations why Queer people may choose NOT to be married that are well beyond what heterosexual couples have to consider. I think +Tom Shaw has it absolutely right: pastoral care in a case by case situation. You know. Just like for heterosexual couples.

IT said...

In a perfect world I have absolutely no problem with requiring the same behavior from gays as of straights with respect to marriage, and indeed I long for the day when that will be the case.

After all isn't equality what we're after? Not equality with an asterisk.

Till then, "generous pastoral provision" requires awareness that LGBT people still aren't equal and are entangled in the mess that civil law has made of this issue.

Because marriage in one state, or six, does not equality make.

As I've argued elsewhere, this is an excellent reason for the church to be active for civil marriage equality nationwide, as a formal policy.

Still, I would encourage LGBT people who can manage, to marry even with the disadvantages. For one thing, it bears witness that it matters to us and to our community. If we wait and say, "thanks but no thanks, not till you fix it", well, then there's no pressure to fix it. "They" think it doesn't matter. So we are called to be ambassadors for marriage.

For another thing, as I've written at length elsewhere, being married is and remains a remarkable, life-affirming experience that affected us in ways we never expected. I mean we'd been together for years. What would a piece of paper and a party do to change that?

More than we dreamed.

Therefore, even though BP and I are probably putting our accountant's kids through college, let alone our attorney's and our financial advisor's, as we deal with the entanglements, paradoxes, and contradictions of same-sex-marriage laws, it was, and remains, absolutely WORTH it to have married.

Despite all that.

It matters very much.

Anonymous said...

A good law suit citing the full faith a credit clause of the US constitution could recitify your legal situation-domestic partnership/civil union/marriage. The law suit could follow the legal rational set forth in Loving v Virginia and numerous commerce clause cases. TEC should do the right thing and provide Ms. Conroy with full benefits.

Hang in there.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, IT. I'm sending your note to Ms. Conroy who is so outraged by the mess that she wants nothing to do with it.

Anonymous said...

And what would a partnered religious do if their partner refused to get married because they were so turned away/off by a prior refusal by a clergy to even bless the union?

Muthah+ said...

I am not happy with the idea that you must be married or you have to live alone. That is hogwash. Many people live together (without benefit of clergy) simply because they love each other without it being a sexual, or marital covenant.

I have lived with my partner for 33 years. We may have to marry in NY in order to get appropriate CPG assistance, but she is straight and I am lesbian. What about all the "perks" of being married? Why do we have them in the first place? The Church needs to get out of what is basically a head-counting or family tax.

Muthah+ said...

+CNY says the right things but he has a hard time walking the talk.

Muthah+ said...

I also believe that if you marry after retirement, the spouse may not collect spousal benefits. NOW that SUCKS

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah - Your situation is a great example of why the church needs to proceed with "pastoral generosity" and act "in due course" on a case by case basis. +Provenzano, I'm sure, thought he would keep the conservatives happy with this time line. Funny thing - he's being excoriated over in Viagraville.

He'll learn.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah - +CNY was ignored in the ENS article and I'm not surprised. He said nothing we wouldn't expect as the absolute basic minimum from someone who professes to be a supporter of Marriage Equality. But, it took him so long to say it, he ended up saying nothing notable.

Makes one wonder why he felt he had to work so hard.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah - I think you're right. On both counts.

Hutch said...

Dear Bishops - please don't mess where you don't know what will happen - in the words of another blog I love - "Leave it lay where Jesus flang it." My Social Security benefits and Medicare are federally funded. The feds won't co-insure with a church plan for same sex partners, so I ended up getting my own additional insurance to cover. If my partner and I marry, she looses her ability to attach to her ex's SS when she retires - and the pension we have been able to build over years of part time and decreased pay to lesbian priests (a whole nother rant) won't keep a chicken alive. We need access to that money. We don't want to marry - we blessed our covenant before the spirits of my parents, each other and God a long time ago. We do want the right to do so. And what happens as you change dioceses, as we do often in the interim plan? Just back off and let everyone live life as is best for them, between them and God.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hutch - You present yet another fine reason not to foist marriage on ANYONE, but especially Queer folk.

Thanks, Hutch.

IT said...

I am daily astonished and humbled by what marriage means to me. It has been a precious gift.

After all, it's not marriage's fault that people used it as a weapon against us.

IT said...


The full faith and credit clause does not apply. For one thing, there is DOMA clause 2 which specifically allows states to ignore SSM. For another, states are allowed to define marriage for themselves and several states refuse to recognize marriages from other states that would be illegal in their own (eg first cousins can marry in some states not others).

textjunkie said...

Hey there--a little late to the party-- but thanks for posting this! I'm sending it along to a bunch of folks who tend to think the church is monolithic in its bashing of the LGBT community... The fact of the matter is it's a complicated, complex distribution of responses (wrong, in many cases, but nonetheless, not monolithic ;).

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Textjunkie. You may be late to the party but you always have something important to say.

There are more than a few of us out there who are still holding the arc of history and helping it to bend toward justice. We're far from few. And the church is far from monolithic about much of anything. You just have to look for us. We're here.

Carol Jo Pettit said...

Thank you for posting this, Dr. Keaton. Frequently I have suggested to folks who are looking for a church which embraces the values they find important to check into the Episcopal Church. When I share this column and comments, I know many who are searching will find solace and encouragement. Blessings,
Carol Jo

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for visiting and sharing, Carol Jo. I hope it's helpful for some.

Matthew said...

Thanks for the correction. Yes it's a life. Marriage is not for everyone and yet some of those are also not called to celibacy. One wonders if clergy are even allowed to have pre marital sex in long island. And if so, why is living in the rectory that much worse.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - Point well made but I'm sure the purple shirts are not going to want to hear it.