Holy matrimony from Cana to California

marriage cana xlOf the many stories dealing with same-sex marriage in California, one San Francisco Chronicle story in particular deserves a look. Headlined "Bay Area churches opened door to same-sex vows," the reporter skims the surface of the history of same-sex rites in Christian churches and managed to get the attention of more than a few GetReligion readers in the process:

The Bay Area has had a number of seminal moments in the history of gays and lesbians in organized religion. The first ordination of an openly gay minister, William Johnson, took place in San Carlos. One of two openly gay bishops in the Anglican Communion, Otis Charles, is a Bay Area resident.

But even so, the vast majority of churches in the region limit the role of gays and lesbians. Only one mainline Protestant denomination - the United Church of Christ, which ordained Johnson - marries homosexual couples with the same rite used for heterosexual couples. And the number of churches friendly to gays and lesbians is much lower than the number of Catholic, evangelical or other conservative Christian churches in the region.

So while liberal churches helped change the state, the state now has a far more liberal view of same-sex marriage. Flat-out opposition has come from evangelicals and the state's Catholic leaders - including San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer and Oakland Bishop Allen Vigneron. Joint support for a November ballot initiative seeking a constitutional amendment that will codify marriage as between one man and one woman will probably come from them.

In case the language wasn't clear enough, the bad people "limit," "flat-out oppose" and aren't "friendly" to gays. The good churches "help change" the state's views on same-sex marriage, ordain and marry homosexuals and condone homosexuality. And that bizarre last sentence is conditional and passive why?

Reporter Matthai Kuravila goes on to say that "churches supportive of gay and lesbian rights" are in the difficult position of being in denominations with stricter rules on same-sex marriage than they might prefer:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Episcopal Church, for example, now prohibit using the marriage rite reserved for straight couples for same-sex marriages. Separate - and, some say, unequal - rites are set aside for gays and lesbians. (That's not true for all churches in those denominations, including some in the Bay Area, where evangelical members insist that marriage should only be between a man and woman.)

I sort of have no idea what he means by this paragraph but love that it's "evangelicals" in these mainline churches who oppose same-sex marriage. What does that word mean in this context? That middle sentence is also fascinating. It should really form the basis for its own article. In fact, I think an article on Christian marriage rites for same-sex partners is desperately needed.

The Christian model of marriage is based on the relationship between Christ and the church. The husband is to sacrifice for his wife as Christ gave himself to the church. The wife is to respect the husband as the church obeys Christ. You can read all about it Ephesians 5. When my husband and I got married, this was the understanding of marriage that we were instructed in. This was included in our marriage rite. Such clear roles for husband and wife wouldn't make sense for same-sex partners. Or, if the same rite is used, who represents Christ and who represents the church? Is the same model of Christ and church used for same-sex partners? How is this understood? I would love to learn more about liturgies for same-sex marriage -- or just other marriage liturgies in general -- rather than some throwaway line about how some people say the rites are "unequal." I mean, really.

Anyway, the article ends with a discussion of how Bay area Episcopalians have been at the forefront of gay rights issues. Bishop Marc Andrus says that gay couples should have a purely civil ceremony at county clerks' offices and then return to the church for a blessing. And all couples -- straight and gay -- should use one of the three rites approved for same-sex blessings. The article fails to mention that these "approved" rites have not been approved by the Episcopal Church itself but, rather, the local California Diocese.

This Religion News Service report appearing in the Washington Post on Saturday notes that even in California, Episcopal bishops hold different views on same-sex marriage rites.

Here's how the article ends:

Andrus said it is part of a natural order that churches might lead the state, and that the state might lead the church.

"We seek to intently follow Christ, but we don't contain Christ," Andrus said. "Christ transcends the boundaries of the church. . . . It's not a surprise to me that the culture is going to manifest Christ in a way that summons the church to new realities. I really welcome that. I think that's the way it's meant to be."

I feel like this quote needs more explanation, context or a response -- but maybe it's that I moved from California so long ago that I have forgotten the language. Anyway, all that to say that the graphic that accompanies the article is in error.

The chart looks at the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to see whether celibacy is required for gays and lesbians and whether they bless same-sex unions, perform same-sex marriages or ordain partnered gay clergy.

According to the chart, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) do not require celibacy, do bless same-sex unions and do ordain partnered gay clery. Except that that's not true. Practices may and do vary in both church bodies but the PCUSA does say that unmarried clergy must remain chaste and that people are not free to disobey that rule. And I think they also forbid same-sex marriage blessings. As for The Episcopal Church, 10 dioceses bless same-sex unions but the national church body has not condoned that. And the international Anglican Communion has been pressuring the Episcopal Church to crack down on those dioceses that conduct same-sex union liturgies.

It just seems that if you're going to write a light and airy piece like this, the least you can do is get the facts right.

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