Clergy within the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh may now sign civil marriage certificates between same-sex couples, Bishop Dorsey McConnell confirmed in a recent open letter to the diocese.
The action builds on Bishop McConnell’s decision in November 2013 to allow clergy to conduct blessings of same-sex relationships.
At that time, same-sex marriage was not a legal option in Pennsylvania, but Bishop McConnell and diocesan chancellor Andy Roman reviewed civil and canon law after the May 20 federal court decision ruling that same-sex couples be allowed to marry in the state of Pennsylvania.
They determined that the language of the same-sex blessing rite satisfies the state’s legal requirements, and therefore, clergy may sign civil marriage certificates in conjunction with the rite.
The rite was approved provisionally at the Episcopal Church’s national legislative General Convention in 2012, subject to approval by each individual bishop. Bishop McConnell, when he authorized use of the rite in November 2013, left it up to parish leaders to decide whether to perform the blessing rite within their specific communities.
“I know and treasure the theological diversity of this diocese, and know that practice in this matter will vary from parish to parish,” Bishop McConnell wrote in the letter. “I support the need for our clergy to be faithful to their own consciences, in choosing to use or not use the Rite, and hope as always that we will continue to regard one another with affection and respect across our differences ...”
The Bishop McConnell declined to comment further than what he stated in his letter.
Cautioning against an overreaction to the letter, diocese spokesman Rich Creehan said the recent letter was meant only to elaborate on developments in the diocese’s point of view following the November statement and recent changes in civil law.
It should not be seen as a blanket statement in support of same-sex marriage, he said.
“The letter simply clarifies that the clergy may act on their civil authority to help couples secure the civil benefits they’re entitled to by Pennsylvania law,” Mr. Creehan said. “That is the extent of this letter. There is no change in the ecclesiastical point of view.”
Moreover, Mr. Creehan emphasized that Bishop McConnell continues to have “very strong reservations” about the theology behind the provisional rite, which Bishop McConnell mentioned in the letter as well.
Dianne Watson, co-convener of Integrity Pittsburgh, a local group calling for inclusion of all LGBTQ in the church, said the letter was another step in the right direction but issued a statement urging Bishop McConnell to help “the House of Bishops create a liturgy that offers the same sense of covenant that is in the marriage rite for heterosexual couples.”
Ms. Watson also expressed the group’s desire to see the day when all clergy in the diocese are willing to perform same-sex marriages.
Ms. Watson said the climate surrounding same-sex marriage within the church is now much more positive than three years ago, prior to the creation of the blessing rite.
She attributed this trend partially to the church’s splintering over the issues of sexuality.
“A lot of those who were offended at the idea ... have left,” she said, but added that she believes “the climate has changed much more quickly than they expected at the general convention.”
Mr. Creehan said the diocese, composed of 37 congregations and 9,100 members, is generally still considered to be conservative.
He also said that, to his knowledge, only one same-sex blessing ceremony has been performed since the the bishop’s November letter. That was in July, and he said it was also the first and only signing of a same-sex civil marriage certificate by a diocesan clergy member of which he is aware.
Ms. Watson remains optimistic, especially after seeing diocesan priests beginning to conduct premarital counseling for same-sex couples.
“They’re preparing individuals to spend the rest of their lives together,” she said.
Wesley Yiin: email@example.com or 412-263-1723.