The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut will soon decide if its priests will be allowed to preside over same-sex marriages.
Some Connecticut priests have already been blessing same-sex marriages performed by other clergymen or by civil authorities, but the church does not allow them to perform marriage ceremonies.
That may change soon.
The Episcopal Church's general convention last week in Anaheim, Calif., adopted a resolution allowing the election and consecration of gay bishops. Also at the convention, the church took up a resolution that would create a liturgy to bless same-sex couples.
These decisions promise to deepen an existing rift between liberals and conservatives in the American Episcopal Church and between the American Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, a global network of churches of which the Episcopal Church is a branch.
For the last six years, since the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elected the first openly gay bishop, Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the church and the communion have been divided over the issue of homosexuality.
Some Episcopal priests in Connecticut have already been blessing same-sex marriages and civil partnerships but aren't permitted by the state diocese to perform marriage ceremonies or sign marriage certificates for same-sex couples. Those priests who wish to bless same-sex marriages now have the national approval of the church.
Others who object to same-sex marriage will not be required to give their blessing, just as they are not required to bless all traditional marriages.
According to the Rev. James G. Bradley of St. John's Church on the Waterbury Green, the decisions made at the convention reflect a church struggling with theology rather than with civil rights. He strongly supports allowing priests to perform marriages for same-sex couples.
"We believe that baptism is baptism is baptism. We believe it is once and for all and every baptized person is equal within the church," Bradley said. "If that is in fact our theology, how can we deny any sacrament (to anyone)?"
Bradley said there have been no same-sex marriages at St. John's, but that he has blessed same-sex marriages outside the church. On June 4, he officiated at a marriage between an Episcopal priest and his partner at Trinity College in Hartford.
"I'm not a stranger to it and I really support the move," Bradley said.
The marriage at Trinity was between two male alumni in their 70s who married in the Episcopal chapel on the college's campus. Mark Silk, professor of religion in public life at the college, said the school's chaplain did not perform the marriage ceremony, in compliance with the rules of the state diocese. Instead, a minister from the United Church of Christ married the couple.
"That gives you some idea of the kind of delicacy with which this whole issue has been handled," Silk said.
In states where same-sex marriage is legal, Episcopal dioceses are about to begin discussing the role priests can play in same-sex marriages.
Connecticut Bishop Andrew Smith said the House of Bishops agreed to give leeway to these states to respond to same-sex couples who go to parishes seeking marriages and the church's blessing.
"Bishops in the affected states of the United States are now going to begin to work together to determine what that means and what that doesn't mean," Smith said.
One thing he is certain of is that if the decision is to allow priests at the 172 Episcopal churches in the state to perform same-sex marriages, the ceremonies would not be identical to those of straight marriages.
"It does not mean that we can simply use the same service in the prayer book for same-sex couples," Smith said. "At this point, I don't know what it will mean for us. None of us want to delay on making that kind of decision."
Originally appeared 7/23/2009 on pages 1a and 7a of the Republican-American©