The outcry by religious progressives over the decision of Sojourners magazine to reject a gay welcome ad raised the question, “Can a Christian organization claim the mantle of ‘progressive’ if they do not include LGBT issues as part of their overall advocacy efforts?” For many liberal Christians, the answer proved to be a resounding “no,” adding that Jim Wallis, one of Newsweeks’s “Faces of the Christian Right,” should no longer be depicted in the media as the sole voice representing Christian progressives. Along those lines, according to a May 2011 Gallup poll for the first time in history, a slim majority (53 percent) of Americans supported same sex marriages.
As reported by The New York Times, “The passage of same-sex marriage in New York last month, just two years after its defeat here, attests to the concerted, sustained efforts by liberal Christian and Jewish clergy to advocate for it in the language of faith, to counter the language of morality voiced by foes. In so doing, they provided a kind of political and theological cover to the moderate and conservative state senators who cast the vital swing votes for a 33-to-29 margin.”
Despite the protestations of Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan that the legalization of same sex marriage will lead a polygamous lifestyle a la Dan Savage -a view that distorts Savage’s ongoing advice for transparency and honesty in relationships-the bill affirms that no member of the clergy can be compelled to solemnize any marriage. In true Roger Williams fashion, churches remain free to determine how they will administer the rite of marriage.
Just because seemingly progressive clergy can now legally perform same sex marriages does not mean they will necessarily welcome lesbian and gay couples with open arms. More conservative clergy may advocate on behalf of social justice issues like poverty and the environment but have theological reservations to even blessing a same sex couple. Some churches choose not marry anyone who is not an active member of their community. A number of clergy require a period of premarital counseling before they will marry any couple. Some clergy plan to advocate for this issue by agreeing to marry any gay couple who crosses their threshold. GLAAD is assisting gay and lesbian couples who are seeking a wedding in a house of worship by launching a web page listing churches who are willing to perform weddings for all couples.
Even a liberal denomination such as the Episcopal Church that affirmed the consecration of openly gay bishops and the ordination of non-celibate lesbian and gay clergy has yet to approve a liturgy for same sex marriages. The Right Reverend Mark Sisk, Bishop of New York, offers this interpretation of the Episcopal Church’s stance on this issue.
At the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 2009, legislation was passed calling for a renewed pastoral response from the church in light of changing circumstances in civil legislation regarding marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian persons. It also provided for an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships and urged the honoring of the theological diversity of our church in regard to matters of human sexuality. That process is still continuing.
In a letter sent to Episcopal clergy, Bishop Sisk noted while Episcopal clergy can bless civil unions and marriages performed by a lay state official of lesbian and gay couples, they are not authorized to perform same sex marriages. Conversely, The Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano, Bishop of Long Island, granted permission for the clergy in his diocese to perform same sex marriages. In addition, both bishops have instructed their gay and lesbian clergy living in partnerships to get married as a fulfillment of their ordination vows that they will pattern their lives in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that they may be wholesome examples to all people.
The Right Revered William H. Love from the Diocese of Albany took the traditionalist view that marriage is between a man and a woman. As such, this diocese will not honor any same sex relationships though he notes that that Church has a long-standing commitment to acknowledge homosexual persons as loved by God, and as recipients of pastoral care within the Church. The Openly Episcopal in Albany blog encourages those who disagree with Bishop Love’s statement to “peak up if you are one of the ‘very well meaning people’ who welcomes the action of the New York Legislature, and who find the restrictive canon of the Diocese of Albany to be now, more than ever, discriminatory.
Rachel Zoll, Associated Press Religion Writer, offers an overview of how the different Protestant denominations are wresting with how their denominational policy lines up with this legislation. With the legalization of same sex marriage in New York State, these progressives’ solidarity with gays and lesbians will be put to the test. In the past, clergy could wrestle their views on LGBT issues by claiming they were welcoming to all but they could not perform an illegal rite. But come July 24th when same sex marriage become law of the land, New York clergy will be forced to actually decide if their welcoming includes granting LGBT people access to the same rites as everyone else.
This post has been updated.
Becky Garrison | Jul 26, 2011 12:03 PM