Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Given the unique role and responsibility of the Church and its clergy in representing both the Church and the State during marriage ceremonies officiated by the clergy, I want to address the recent marriage legislation passed by the New York State Legislature and signed by the Governor.
Christian marriage is a sacramental act and as defined in the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer “is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God.” (BCP pg. 422) This has been the understanding and teaching of the Church for over 2000 years and is supported by Holy Scripture in both the Old and New Testament (Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:6-9).
As you are all well aware, there has been a strong move by some in Society for quite some time to redefine marriage in such a way as to allow for the “marriage” of two individuals of the same gender. New York has now joined five other states in redefining marriage. Effective July 24, 2011, marriage as a civil contract in New York will no longer be restricted to heterosexual couples, but may also include same gender couples as well.
With the passage of this new legislation, there is now in New York State a significant difference between the Church’s teaching that marriage “is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman” as outlined above, and the State’s interpretation of marriage which will no longer differentiate by gender. In anticipation that this situation might some day arise, the Diocese of Albany overwhelmingly passed Canon 16.1 and 16.2 at its 140th Diocesan Convention in 2008.
Canon 16.1 continues the Church’s historic understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman, and specifically bars any other union “even if they be recognized in other jurisdictions.” This canon simply states the past and present pastoral practice in the Diocese of Albany and is in agreement with the mainstream of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the wider Church. It also specifies the extent to which the clergy (deacons, priests and bishops) of the Diocese of Albany, (both canonically resident and licensed) may participate in the celebration or blessing of a marriage. Canon 16.2 speaks to the extent to which properties of the Diocese, parishes, and other Episcopal-related bodies within the Diocese may be used for marriage ceremonies. The full text of the canon may be found […here].
The new marriage law passed by the New York Legislature and signed by the Governor, recognized that the State’s expanded interpretation of marriage to include same-gender couples may very well be at odds with the teachings and practices of different religious organizations and bodies. As a result, the new marriage legislation includes special protections and safeguards for clergy and religious institutions that choose not to participate in same gender marriages or blessings. The legislation states:
…no clergyman or minister as defined in section two of the religious corporations law…shall be required to solemnize any marriage when acting in his or her capacity under this subdivision. A refusal by a clergyman or minister as defined in section two of the religious corporations law…to solemnize any marriage under this subdivision shall not create a civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits or discriminate against such clergyman or minister.”
Having said all of the above, I am very aware that while the overwhelming majority of the people and clergy of the Diocese of Albany do not and cannot support the new marriage legislation. There are some very well meaning people in the Diocese who are sympathetic to and support the legalization of same-gender marriages and the blessing of such unions. We all know this has been and is a very emotional and highly charged issue.
Our Church has a long-standing commitment to acknowledge homosexual persons as loved by God, and as recipients of pastoral care within the Church. It is my hope and prayer that every parish in the Diocese of Albany will welcome and share God’s love with ANYONE who is seeking a deeper relationship with and desiring to worship and serve our Lord Jesus Christ.
When it comes to ministering to and providing pastoral support to any couple desirous of being married in the Church, as your Bishop and Brother in Christ, it is my expectation that the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Albany will honor and uphold the Diocesan Canons.
Faithfully Yours in Christ,
–(The Rt. Rev.) William Love is Bishop of Albany