+Chane: Priests may preside at civil marriages in DC

Episcopal Bishop: Priests may preside at civil marriages in D. C.

Episcopal priests in the Diocese of Washington may preside at civil same-sex marriages in the District of Columbia under guidelines released today by Bishop John Bryson Chane. No priest is required to preside at such ceremonies.

“Through the grace of Holy Baptism, there are no second class members of the Body of Christ, ” Chane said. “We are of equal value in the eyes of God, and any one of us may be called by the Holy Spirit into holy relationships as well as Holy Orders.”

At its General Convention in July, the Episcopal Church granted bishops with jurisdiction where civil same-sex marriage is legal the discretion to “provide generous pastoral responses to meet the needs of members of this church.” Chane joins bishops in Iowa, Vermont and Massachusetts in permitting clergy to preside at civil same-sex marriages. Diocesan clergy in Washington have long been permitted to offer liturgical blessings to same-sex couples.

Chane’s guidelines do not specify what rites clergy may use when officiating at a civil marriage. “I would prefer to work that out in consultation with the clergy who will be performing these services,” he said.

The Episcopal Church does not permit its “Order of Marriage” to be used in the marriage of same-sex couples. However, numerous rites for blessing same-sex relationships are in circulation and under development. At its 2009 General Convention, they Church authorized its Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to collect and develop theological resources that might lead to the development of a rite for blessing same-sex civil marriages or marrying same-sex couples.

Under the Diocese of Washington’s new guidelines:

Priests who wish to preside at a civil same-sex marriage in an Episcopal parish must have the support of the parish’s rector and lay governing board, known as a vestry.

Priests from outside the diocese are prohibited from presiding at same-sex civil marriage ceremonies within the diocese unless they are from a state and diocese that permits such marriages.

Couples who reside in other dioceses may have a civil same-sex marriage performed in the diocese by a priest if such marriages are legal in their state, and their bishop permits clergy to participate in civil same-sex marriage ceremonies.

“I hope that these pastoral guidelines will be helpful to the clergy that I serve as bishop,” Chane wrote. “In the matter of how to engage or not engage in performing, witnessing and blessing same-sex marriages within the District, I respect the pastoral judgment and decisions of the clergy under my pastoral oversight.”

Guidelines are here

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