In the Name of God: Episcopal Marriage Rite; Liturgy Approved for Same-Gender Unions

By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist–

The Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican Communion, nominally headed by Elizabeth Windsor (a.k.a. Her Majesty the Queen), has approved a liturgy (a sacred service) for same-gender unions, The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant, for use beginning December 2. Priests will still need the permission of their bishops to celebrate the rite.

On July 10, the two-house General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved a resolution allowing sacramental blessings. Technically, it’s not a marriage, but it’s still a sacrament.  Marriage or sacramental blessing is theological hair splitting.

In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” we’re reminded, “O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Put in modern vernacular: a rose called by any other name is still a rose. Or as Gertrude Stein wrote a “rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

The resolution that passed remains respectful of those who disagree as a matter of conscience. A priest doesn’t have to celebrate the rite. Nor will he or she suffer from any fallout as a result.

The Episcopal Church has a slow, democratic and deliberative process. Bishops and lay persons voted on the new rite. Seventy-eight percent of clergy approved the rite with 76 percent approval by lay persons.

The liturgy, according to the document, “is a service of blessing for same-sex couples who are in lifelong, faithful monogamous, committed relationships.” This underscores the sacredness of the liturgy. It’s worth underscoring “lifelong, faithful monogamous, committed relationships.”

In addition, “The Church expects the blessing of a covenantal relationship to bear the fruits of divine grace … This makes the couple accountable to the community of faith as well as to God and to one another. The community, in turn, is held accountable for encouraging, supporting, and nurturing a blessed relationship as the couple seeks to grow together in holiness of life.” It desexualizes the stereotype, especially held by social conservatives, that being LGBTQ is simply about a physical act with persons of the same sex and nothing more.

This language formally moves marriage equality well beyond economic or spousal rights under civil law. It speaks to spiritual growth and maturity by Christians and LGBTQ persons as a group and as individuals.

Some argue, like the Very Rev. Thurlow, that popular culture is changing God. The Creator is being forced to fit contemporary secular needs. I strongly disagree. When humankind stopped believing that colonialism was just, slavery and segregation was moral, and the sun revolved around the earth, among other things, all done in the name of God and religion, did the Creator change? No. Humankind changed.

Divine Holiness doesn’t change. Nor can the Maker of the Universe be subjected to popular culture. People, individually and collectively as a faith community, are often divinely inspired. Through holy grace they are allowed to see a part of God’s ever unfolding mystery. The Giver of Life permits more truth to be revealed when humankind is ready or has been obstinate for too long.

People of genuine faith never stop learning about the Holy Author. It’s much like the cosmos. God is an infinite, elegant, ever unfolding mystery. The Episcopal Church’s decision to bless same-gender unions invites LGBTQ couples into the mystical cosmos underscoring their rightful place in God’s holy Creation. It’s an invitation to embrace the mysticism and spirituality that is unique to them as one family seamlessly joined with all holy Creation that goes beyond and includes all the stars and planets.

*Paul is an author, attorney, and a seminary trained, ordained priest in greater Albany, NY. Email questions to

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