Episcopal Life Convention Daily
Wednesday, 12 July 2000  

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Deputies defeat call for rite to support non-marital unions

An attempt to provide a liturgical rite that would support committed unions other than marriage was narrowly defeated in the House of Deputies July 11. While a definitive tally is not expected until this morning's session, initial results announced in the house showed the recommendation failing in both orders by only a few votes. The first seven resolves passed easily.

The call for a rite made no specific reference to homosexual or heterosexual unions, but debate before the vote focused almost entirely on the proposed rite's application to same-sex couples. According to the initial results, the deputies turned down the recommendation for a rite "to support relationships of mutuality and fidelity other than marriage" by just three votes in the lay order and a single vote in the clerical order. The proposal was the last of eight resolves in a resolution (D039s) painstakingly shaped by legislative Committee 25, the committee charged with considering the convention's resolutions addressing sexuality.

In an earlier voice vote, the deputies overwhelmingly passed the first seven resolves of the compromise resolution. The resolution had been crafted from a working paper produced by committee members and a resolution (B045) from Bishop Geralyn Wolf (Rhode Island). Fewer than 50 deputies opposed those first seven resolves setting out the church's standards for both marriage and "other lifelong committed relationships," acknowledging the church's traditional teaching on the sanctity of marriage, and reaffirming the imperative to promote conversation between people of different perspectives on these issues.

Nearly all the testimony offered in a half-hour period of discussion before the vote focused instead on the final resolve, which would have directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to prepare rites for the Book of Occasional Services to support persons living in nonmarital committed relationships.

The near passage, a virtual replay of the deputies' last foray into this issue in 1997, was marked by passionate pleas from those opposed to same-sex unions. Approving the last resolve, they said, would destroy the unity of the church. During debate, several clergy deputies warned that they would lose as much as two-thirds of their congregations if the last resolve passed. However, in a press conference after the vote, lay deputy Herb Gunn (Michigan) said he doubted deputies had voted out of fear.

Scott Larsen, spokesman for Integrity, disagreed. "Sure they were afraid," he said, and pointed out that "we [lesbian and gay rights supporters] never threatened to bolt. We'll be here at the table tomorrow."His theory seemed to be borne out by conversations with deputies. One clerical deputy, admitting his "no" vote, said, "I wussed out."

As the Rev. Rosemari Sullivan, secretary of the house, read out the roll call of no votes, a silence settled over the deputies. Since only the negative and divided votes of deputations are read out, the deputies were left holding their collective breath until the final count was announced.

Reactions to the vote

The Rev. Ian Douglas, a professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., said the passage of the first seven resolves of D039 moved the Episcopal Church in a positive direction. "Our conversation should be about the nature of human relationships," he insisted. He believes previous conversations, instead of being focused on relationships, have been marked by a preoccupation with sexual activity. "Now we can move on to a more significant discussion about how God's grace acts in the lives of couples, and how they act out that grace before God."

Similarly, the Rev. Katherine Glenn (Colorado) said that the vote reflects "a gradually expanding willingness to respect and honor committed mature relationships" as well as showing "a deep concern for the unity of the church." Nevertheless, the disappointment was palpable for some. Jacqueline Scott, a lay deputy from Colorado, admitted it was "not yet time." She said, "I have so many friends on the outside of this supposedly fully inclusive church. How long will they have to wait?"

The Rev. Gayle Harris (Rochester) related a similar opinion she had heard from a GenerationX priest, whoremarked"We have voted to repeat the conversation." On the other side of the aisle, the Rev. Martyn Minns of Truro, Va., a board member of the conservative American Anglican Council, said the vote described "the reality that we're a divided church." Interpreting the preliminary vote count, he theorized that the church is moving "in a more conservative direction."

Minns noted that four conservative Central American dioceses have left the Episcopal Church to form an autonomous province. Yet, even without their presence, the tally was similar to one in 1997, when these dioceses were able to vote on a measure calling for the development of "a rite or rites" to bless same-sex unions. At the Philadelphia convention, the vote failed by one clerical and one lay vote.

Minns did not think the first seven resolves were that significant, arguing that they only described the condition of the divided church.

Without the last resolve, resolution D039s is expected to face little resistance when considered by the bishops later in convention. In an unusual step, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold allowed a recess of the House of Bishops so that the bishops could sit in on the deputies' debate. More than 100 bishops, many joined by their spouses, witnessed the debate from the visitors' gallery.

Tom Beckwith and David Skidmore contributed to this article.

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