NEWS: The Episcopal Church and Gay Rights

Bishop_Gene_Robinson_portrait_2005It was a big week for the Episcopal Church. On Tuesday the House of Bishops and Deputies voted (by a count of more than two to one) to end the freeze on ordaining openly gay bishops. The following day it arrived at a compromise (by a count of more than three to one) that allows individual bishops to decide whether to bless same-sex marriages. A part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church comprises approximately two million laypersons, priests, and deacons, many of whom are openly gay. This group first became split on the issue of ordination six years ago when the Diocese of New Hampshire elected the church’s first (and currently only) openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson (pictured here). Three years ago, at the Anglican Communion’s last convention, the church attempted to forestall schism by instigating a suspension on the ordination of gay bishops. The current resolution is expected to further polarize American congregations as well as alienate the Episcopal Church even more from the global conglomerate of churches composing the Anglican Communion.

Regarding the issue of unions, though the church did not resolve to create an official liturgy for same-sex marriage ceremonies, it did reach a compromise whereby the church will defer to those bishops who choose to bless such unions. (An authorized rite could possibly be developed by the next convention in 2012). The Episcopal Church is not alone in this matter: other religious groups in the U.S. – such as Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarian Universalist Association – already permit ceremonies to bless same-sex unions. As with the former issue, many assume that this measure will lead the Anglican Communion, as well as individual Episcopal churches in conservative states, to sever ties with the Episcopal Church. However, many within the group point to allies – in America and the larger global network alike – as evidence that most people agree with their granting of fundamental civil rights. Regardless, many mainline denominations within Protestantism are watching closely to gauge whether the Episcopal Church can withstand the battle over gay rights and remain in one piece.

For more on the move to increase consecrations of openly gay bishops, click here. For more on the measure granting autonomy to bishops who wish to bless same-sex unions, click here. For a short essay on whether or not gay-friendly denominations in the U.S. are shrinking, click here. For a recent interview with Bishop V. Gene Robinson, click here.

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