Bishop Scarfe on the Iowa ruling

A Pastoral Response to the Iowa State Supreme Court Ruling on Equal Marriage from Alan Scarfe, Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Iowa:

Good Friday 2009

The recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling has opened civil marriage for same-sex couples in the state of Iowa on the constitutional principle of equal protection under the law. This ruling clarifies for me what the issue is that is facing the Church. Like so many who support the rights of gay and lesbian people, I thought civil unions would provide adequate protection for their relationships. I began to see things differently as I heard the arguments presented in court several months ago.

The Supreme Court’s ruling broadens the legal definition of marriage beyond that which is currently stated in the Canons of the Church or the Prayer Book which contains our authorized services. Further, the Prayer Book requires compliance with both the laws of the State and the canons of the Church. But the Church’s definition of the sacrament of marriage and the state’s definition of the legal form of marriage now differ. In spite of the good intentions many may have, I am unable to permit Episcopal clergy to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Couples wishing prayers and a blessing therefore must go first to the state to be married or a priest may ask a state official to provide for the vows and the signing of the license.

As an Episcopal bishop I honor the fact that the title of the ruling names an Episcopal couple. I know many Episcopal clergy and baptized who have worked and prayed to see this day. I also know that I am the bishop of the whole Diocese in a global Communion as well as a Catholic Church, and we are not of one mind on this issue.

Read it all.


The Rev. Maureen Doherty, of St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Waverly [Iowa], finds herself in a similar situation. Her faith’s tenets prevent her from performing marriage rites for gay couples, even though Doherty, a lesbian herself, seeks to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals in all other aspects of her worship community.

“In this diocese, we have permission to do a blessing,” she said. “But I won’t be doing same-sex marriages because, as a priest in the Episcopal Church, I’m bound by canons of my church.”

Past Posts