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solemnise

Blessing of same-sex unions in Christian churches

The blessing of same-sex unions is currently an issue about which some Christian Churches are at present in disagreement with other Christian churches. These disagreements are primarily centered on the interpretation of various scripture passages related to homosexuality, and in some Churches on the varying understandings of homosexuality in psychology, genetics and other scientific data. While various Church bodies have widely varying practices and teachings, individual Christians of every major tradition are involved in practical (orthopraxy) discussions about how to respond to the issue.

Terminology

Theological differences between support and opposition

Those Christians and Churches which support blessing of same-sex unions do so from several perspectives:

  • Interpretations of the Bible that deemphasize Old and New Testament passages regarding homosexual practice. Appeals to APA statements regarding homosexuality may influence this belief.
  • Believes that "the inclusiveness of Baptism" requires equal access to having relationships "blessed" by the church.
  • Belief that "all love is from God and is a reflection of and participation in Divine Love". And therefore that love present in same-sex relationships ought to be recognized/ceremonialized in a church setting.
  • It is a matter of justice. Desire to provide "equality" or "equal access" in marriage services so as not to "marginalize" LGBT people or relationships.
  • It is a "compassionate response" that improves gay-straight relations and reduces anti-gay hate speech.
  • It is an affirmative good that stands alongside straight marriage and committed monastic celibacy as a revelation of God's self in the world.
  • The logical coherence of the core Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection and the Ascension is improved through the integration of gay marriage into the Christian conception of marriage.
  • Our understanding of marriage as a metaphor of Christ’s relationship with the Church is strengthened by assimilating gay marriage into that metaphor.

Those Christians and Churches which oppose same-sex unions and same-sex marriage do so from some or all of the following reasons:

  • Marriage is a Sacrament ("Matrimony") defined first in the Book of Genesis, then later in the teachings of Christ as a union of man and woman.
  • The Roman Catholic Church, in particular, also appeals to the reasoning of the Natural Law Tradition. According to Natural Law the "natural order" of human sexuality is oriented toward the opposite sex for several reasons:

* The natural physical complementarity between the sexes.
* The biology of sexuality is oriented toward procreation; homosexuality from this perspective is without merit.

  • Many churches rely on the words of the Bible as Divine Revelation (Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition).
  • Traditional or literal interpretations of Old and New Testament passages opposing homosexual activity:

* Homosexual practices appear to be condemned in Judges 19:1-20:48 (cf. 19:22)
* Homosexual practices are explicitly condemned in Romans 1:26-28; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10 (NASB)

  • Moral condemnations against rectal intercourse that transcend biblical interpretation and that some say derive from homophobia.

'Controversy between same-sex union and marriage

Some people feel that same-sex unions are middle ground between same-sex marriage and condemnation of same-sex relationships. Unions as a 'legal status' between individuals does not by itself conflict with Church teachings about the sacredness of "Marriage".

The Episcopal Church USA, many dioceses of which permit the blessing of same-sex unions, nevertheless rejected at their 2006 General Convention a resolution allowing the solemnization of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is recognized by civil law.

Churches unfavorable to same-sex unions and marriage

Same-sex marriage is forbidden in a majority of Christian denominations, including:

According to a 2002 study by the Marriage Law Project, which opposes same-sex marriage, denominations claiming 97.6 percent of American Christians and 99.97 percent of Christians worldwide do not yet recognize same-sex marriage. A recent Pew research forum indicated that in the United States same-sex marriage is opposed by 55 percent of Catholics, 54 percent of Protestants, and 80 percent of evangelicals. The Pew study also showed that while 59% of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, a lower number (51 percent) oppose granting some legal rights to same-sex couples.

By nature of this religious understanding of marriage, when churches use the term "Union" in a same-sex blessing ceremony, they may or may not be blessing this union in an equivalent way as they would bless a "marriage" as opposed to blessing the commitment between the two individuals. Some Christian bodies are exploring the manner in which same-sex couples could or should be blessed (or not) by the church. Because same-sex religious unions are not widespread and because civil unions do not require religious officiation, documentation of the incidence of church blessing of same-sex couples is difficult.

Churches favorable to same-sex marriage

Due to its "local option", a number of congregations and ministers of the United Church of Canada (a merger of Congregationalist, Presbyterian and Methodist congregations in Canada following presbyterian polity) officiate at same-sex marriages, which are fully legal in Canada.

In the Anglican Communion, Integrity Toronto has been divided over whether to continue pressing for same-sex blessings, or to revise their goals to seek full marriage rights.

The Church of Sweden is willing to allow same-sex marriage (under a different name) if it is legalised in Sweden. Currently, only civil unions are recognised in Sweden, and must precede a blessing service or Mass.

The predominantly gay Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches performs same-sex marriages.

The Mennonite Church in the Netherlands offers marriage to both heterosexual and same-gender couples .

The Unitarian Universalists perform same-sex marriages.

The Swedenborgian Church of North America allows ministers to choose whether to perform same-sex marriages.

Same-sex couples can be married under the care of many "unprogrammed" Quaker meetings. British Quaker meetings celebrate same-sex commitments by a special act of worship but none has yet called this marriage. In Australia, Canberra Quaker meeting celebrated the marriage of two gay men on 15 April 2007. Canberra Quakers and Queensland Quakers are prepared to celebrate same-sex marriages despite the lack of legal recognition. See Quaker views of homosexuality

Many smaller denominations, such as the Eucharistic Catholic Church also solemnize same-sex marriages.

Churches favorable to same-sex union

Anglicanism

Report of the Lambeth Commission

The Archbishop of Canterbury requested the Lambeth Commission on Communion to report to him by September, 2004. The Commission was asked to consider the legal and theological implications flowing from decisions related to homosexuality that were apparently threatening the communion. In addition to decisions relating to the blessing of same-sex unions, the Commission was asked to examine the decision of the Episcopal Church (USA) to appoint a priest, Gene Robinson, in a committed same-sex relationship as one of its bishops. The Commission was charged with specifically considering the effects on communion: "impaired and broken communion," between provinces of the Anglican Communion over the above decisions.

In its report, known as the Windsor Report, the Commission put forward the following general findings”

The Commission regrets that without attaching sufficient importance to the interests of the wider Communion:
* The Episcopal Church (USA) proceeded with the consecration of Gene Robinson
* The 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) declared that 'local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions'[80]
* The Diocese of New Westminster approved the use of public Rites for the Blessing of same-sex unions.
* The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada issued a statement affirming the integrity and sanctity of committed same-sex relationships.
* A number of primates and other bishops have taken it upon themselves to intervene in the affairs of other provinces of the Communion.

The Commission called for a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions, and recommended that bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada "be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorisation." The report was roundly condemned by the gay community and progressive theologians for its partiality. (For example, while it calls for both liberals and conservatives to express regret for actions contributing to disunity, it acknowledges that conservatives may have committed such actions out of a sense of duty, but extends no such understanding to the Dioceses of New Westminster or New Hampshire).

Anglican Church of Canada

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada in 2004 voted to defer a decision of same-sex blessings until 2007, but also to "Affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships".
Diocese of New Westminster
Blessing of same-sex unions became a subject of media attention in the Vancouver area in May, 2003 when Bishop Michael Ingham of the Diocese of New Westminster announced that he had given priests in some parishes the authority to bless gay and lesbian unions.

Bishop Ingham issued a rite of blessing of people in committed same-sex unions on May 23, 2003.

This was done in response to requests by three consecutive Diocesan Synods, culminating in June, 2002. The diocese considers that the blessing of same-sex couples is one part of their work of community outreach and care for parishioners. The blessing is a way that some priests use to ensure that homosexual people who seek to be included in the Anglican Communion feel safe and respected.

The blessing is a “pastoral tool”. Some priests in some parishes (six out of 80) bless permanent faithful relationships. Permission is granted by the bishop only when a priest requests it, and a parish has decided by majority vote, that they want to be a place of blessing. Ingham says of the practice:

I insist only that those on all sides of the issue respect one another and that everyone should maintain the order of the church. Our goal in the Anglican Church in the Greater Vancouver area is to be a church that accommodates differences.

Episcopal Church of the USA

The issue of blessing of same-sex unions was the subject of a resolution at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church of the USA held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 30 - August 8, 2003. After debate, the following resolution was concurred in and became an Act of the Convention:

The ordination of openly gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions within the Episcopal Church USA has led to some tension with the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Old Catholic Churches (Utrecht Union)

Four churches of the Utrecht Union, which shares full communion with the Anglican Churches through the Bonn Agreement, also permit such blessings: namely, Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands (the mother church) permits blessings of gay civil marriages, and the Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland, and Catholic Diocese of the Old Catholics in Germany permit blessings of gay civil unions. The Old Catholic Church of Austria also permits such blessings (no civil unions there). Because of this (as well as the ordination of women), the Old Catholic Church in Slovakia and Polish National Catholic Church (USA) seceded from the Union in 2004.

Baptist Churches

The Alliance of Baptists has supported the legal right to marry; its position on corollary church services is unclear.

Church of Scotland

The 2006 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted that blessing civil partnerships should be a matter of conscience for individual ministers. Conservatives in the Kirk argued that the reform would have to be ratified by local presbyteries.

Lutheran and Reformed Churches

Sweden and Denmark

The Church of Sweden and the Church of Denmark (in full communion with the Anglican Churches of the British Isles through the Porvoo Communion) allow blessings of same-sex couples. The Church of Sweden has stated its openness to allowing priests to conduct church weddings for same-sex couples if same-sex marriage in Sweden is legalised, though it would prefer to use a word other than "marriage". Currently Sweden allows only civil unions. A blessing may follow the registration of the partnership, which alone gives the union legal force. Under the proposed policy, legal marriage could be contracted in the context of a Mass or other liturgy.

United States

The Lutheran church Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has not officially allowed blessings of same-sex couples. Studies and dialogue have been under way during the past decade and will continue until the 2009 Church Wide Assembly. However, many instances of same-sex blessing have been performed by individual Lutheran ministers outside official policy. The ELCA in fact has no official policy on blessing same-gender relationships, but in 1993 the ELCA Conference of Bishops stated it does not approve of such ceremonies. The Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the ELCA.

"Gay friendly" Lutheran churches are known as congregations "Reconciling in ChristThis registry includes not only churches, but synods, organizations, Lutheran colleges, campus ministries, social ministry institutions, Lutheran Health Care establishments and other groups which openly welcome gays and lesbians in their community. The national Lutheran organization which advocates for equality for gays and lesbians inside and outside the church is know as "Lutherans concerned North America". Founded in 1974 Local chapters are found throughout the USA and Canada.

As of the 2007 Church Wide Assembly, non-celibate openly gay and lesbian men and women may may not serve as clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. However, as it turns out, many do. Without revising this rule, the Assembly resolved to "refrain from disciplining" any ministers who who are in committed same-sex relationships. In essence one could say gay pastors are "decriminalized" in the ELCA.

In the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, neither allowing gay pastors, nor same-sex unions is under discussion. Leaders in the Missouri Synod consider that this recent decision by the ELCA has strained relations between the two US Lutheran Church bodies.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which does not allow the ordination of homosexual pastors, also does not allow the blessing of same-sex unions or marriages. Differing greatly from ELCA, the WELS does not allow the union of gay couples, even if the couples have loving relationships.

ELCA grassroots conservative groups like the Word Alone Network and Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christwhich generally uphold traditional teachings would tend to oppose moves toward same-sex blessings, etc. However, while the pro-gay rights Good Soil resolutions have had strongly organized support on a national level, opposition to them from conservatives has thus far been somewhat scattered. According to ELCA national presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, as far as affirming gay clergy and same-sex unions, Lutherans want change but they want it slowly.

Canada

Neither the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada nor the Lutheran Church - Canada permits the blessing of same-sex unions. In 2006, the Eastern Synod of the ELCIC voted to allow a "local option" for same-sex blessings, but agreed not to proceed when the National Church Council ruled that the decision was under the jurisdiction of the National Convention. The LC-C stance is consonant with that of its American sister church, the LCMS.

Germany

In addition, some Lutheran, United and Reformed churches within the Protestant Church in Germany

Switzerland

Netherlands

Norway

Austria

These Lutheran, United and Reformed churches in Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and Austria bless same-gender unions.

Poland

Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Presbyterian Church USA has a limited allowance for such blessings, but does not officially endorse that the unions be consummated.

The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) has ruled that same-sex ceremonies are not forbidden, as long as they are not considered to be the same as marriage services.

Methodism

In 2005, the Methodist Church of Great Britain voted to allow a local option for ministers who wish to perform same-sex blessings, with a Church spokesperson stating that “We have decided, with the law changing in December, we as a Church need to provide guidance to our ministers, who will be allowed to take an individual decision as to whether or not they want to bless gay couples.” However, in 2006, the Church reversed itself and prohibited the blessing of same-sex unions on or off church property. Ministers are still at liberty to offer informal, private prayers for such couples.

The United Methodist Church prohibits celebrations of same-sex unions by its elders and in its churches.

Moravian Church (North America)

The Moravian Church in North America's Northern Province has passed several liberal resolutions on homosexuality, but has not yet been able to "address the issue of a marriage covenant between homosexual persons".

Protestant Church in the Netherlands

The Protestant Church in the Netherlands has chosen not to address marriage in its post-merger canon law; however, the by-laws of the church allow for the blessing of relationships outside of marriage.

Unity Church

Some ministers of the Unity School of Christianity officiate at commitment ceremonies. The Church prints certificates to recognise these occasions.

Churches with no policy on the unions

The United Church of Christ has no formal rules requiring or prohibiting solemnization of wedding vows, but owing to its Congregational polity and constitution, each Local Church is "autonomous in the management of its own affairs" and has the "right to operate in the way customary to it"; it cannot be "abridge[d] or impair[ed]" by other UCC agencies, and so each congregation has the freedom to bless or prohibit any kind of marriage or relationship in whatever way they discern appropriate. Thus a congregation may choose at their discretion to solemnise same-sex marriages, to bless same-sex unions, or refuse to perform any ceremony for same-sex couples, or refuse to perform any kind of marriage for anyone. There are no available statistics on how many UCC congregations solemnize same-sex relationships, but there are documented cases where this happens and documented cases where congregations have taken stands against marriage between same-gender couples.

See also

References

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