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Same-sex blessings authorised in Massachusetts: CEN 12.04.09 p 7. December 9, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Massachusetts.
First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Bishop of Massachusetts has authorised his clergy to solemnise same-sex marriages. The Nov 29 announcement by the Rt Rev M Thomas Shaw, SSJE follows announcements by the Bishops of Bethlehem, Huron and Southern Ohio authorising their clergy to bless gay civil unions.

In a letter read to congregations last week, Bishop Shaw said that experience had shown him that many same-sex relations are characterised by “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, and the holy love which enables spouses to see in one another the image of God.”

Go-ahead for same-sex marriages in Massachusetts

Because Christian marriage is a “sacramental rite” it must be “open to all as a means of grace and sustenance to our Christian hope,” he said.

In 2004 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court authorized gay marriage. Courts in California, Iowa, and Maine followed suit, as did the Vermont legislature. Referendums mounted by petition in California and Maine, however, have nullified the courts’ decisions.

In the Diocese of Massachusetts, “while faithfully waiting for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to act in response” to the legalisation of gay marriage, “our clergy have not been allowed to solemnise same-gender marriages, but they have been permitted to bless them after the fact.” Bishop Shaw said the decision by General Convention this year to “provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church,” allowed him to give the go-ahead for gay church weddings.

The Prayer Book rite for marriage, with its language of ‘man and woman’ was not to be used, the bishop said, noting, however, that other trial liturgies were available.

In Canada, where gay civil marriage is also authorised, the Rt Rev Robert Bennett on Nov 26 told his clergy that “as we await General Synod 2010, the Diocese of Huron will maintain the moratorium agreed to at Lambeth” and not permit gay marriage, but would allow blessings of gay unions. “These celebrations are understood to be a pastoral response to same-sex couples in our communities,” he said, and are to take place in the context of the celebration of the Eucharist, but “there is to be no exchange of vows, no exchange of rings and no nuptial blessing.”

Clergy in Bethlehem and Southern Ohio have also been authorised to perform gay blessings. But the Rt Rev Paul Marshall of Bethlehem reminded his clergy that they could not hold out these ceremonies as marriages as state law did not recognize their validity.

Writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury on July 16 and 17, US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori claimed the Episcopal Church had not authorized gay marriage.

Convention resolution C056, which authorised dioceses to “collect and develop” same-sex blessings rites, and encouraged a “generous pastoral provision” of support for gays and lesbians, including offering gay blessings rites “does not authorise public liturgical rites for the blessing of same-gender unions,” said Bishop Jefferts Schori said.

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