Boston Gay Marriage – TEC have Completed the Circle

Boston Gay Marriage – TEC have Completed the Circle

My thanks to Charlene Smith of the Episcopal Divinity School in the US who has supplied me with a copy of the liturgy used last Saturday for the marriage service in Boston Cathedral.

You can download the service yourself here and the 1979 TEC Prayer Book marriage service is here.

Examining the two liturgies side by side, it is very clear that the Boston liturgy is to all intents and purposes identical to the 1979 marriage liturgy, with small textual changes to reflect the fact that there are two women being married rather that two people of the opposite sex. Rather than publish all of the liturgies side by side like I did with the service at Great St Barts, instead what I’m going to do is highlight some key sections where decisions have been made that advise of us the theological understanding of those who shaped the service.

Pastoral Introduction

1979 Prayer Book Boston Cathedral Service Comment
Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of these women in Holy Matrimony. Identical language, merely adapting for two women
The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Language of “established by God in creation” and Jesus at Cana ommitted in Boston Ceremony.
It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people. Holy Scripture tells us that all love
is from God, and the commitment of marriage signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and the Church.
Ephesians 5 is applied to all unions in the Boston liturgy without the husband / wife – Christ / Church distinction clear in the language of the Scripture. There is also the addition of the “Holy Scripture tells us that all love is from God” phrase.
The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. The union of God’s children in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the gift of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Significantly, the Boston liturgy recognises the physical impossibility of two people of the same sex to procreate.
Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in  accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.Into this holy union N.N. and N.N. now come to be joined. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.

Into this holy union Katherine Hancock Ragsdale and Margaret Ewing Lloyd now come to be joined.

Identical language

The Pastoral introduction makes three significant adaptions from the 1979 prayer book service. First, it ommits reference to the wedding in Cana and the concept of marriage as established by God in creation. Secondly, it adapts the Ephesians 5 passage to apply to all unions, not just those of man and wife. Thirdly, it ommits reference to procreation as a divinely intended fruit of marriage. What is presented then is not the model of a divinely instituted order specifically of male and female for procreation and mutual support, but rather a blessing of God on any union of two people who chose to commit to each other.

I wrote more on the adaption of the Ephesians 5 theology in my theological analysis of the Great St Bart’s ceremony and you might also want to read my commentary on Dr Jeffrey John’s exploration of this.

The Readings

Two very interesting readings. The first is Ruth 1:16-18 (which I have dealt with here) and the second is from the original court ruling making gay marriage legal in Massachusetts.

From “Goodridge vs. Department of Health” by Massachusetts
Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations….Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance.” … Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family…. Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of selfdefinition.

The Prayers

There are two significant changes to the prayers.

The prayer

Bestow on them, if it is your will, the gift and heritage of children, and the grace to bring them up to know you, to love you, and to serve you.
Amen.

is adapted to

Watch over their children, nieces and nephews as they grow into adulthood, that they may be sure of Mally and Katherine’s love and support, and yours.
Amen.

This prayer is often omitted or edited in normal marriage services and you might expect a husband and wife who already have children to receive such a prayer.

The second alteration is from

Grant that all married persons who have witnessed these vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed.
Amen.

to

Grant that all couples who have witnessed these vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed.
Amen.

This is more significant because the choice was made not just to bless all those in marriages and civil unions, but all couples. Even if I was a liberal I’d be alarmed by this choice of words because it leaves one questioning what is intended by the phrase “all couples”? Is it enough to have hooked up with someone the previous evening? Given that the State of Massachusetts recognises gay marriage, would not a more appropriate choice have been “married persons” or “all those united in sight of God”?

Summary

In some senses there is nothing remarkable about this liturgy and that is what makes it so significant. To all intents and purposes it is a normal marriage service with adaptions for the presence of same-sex spouses. The area where significant theological innovation has occured is the re-interpretation of Ephesians 5 and the removal of references to divine intent for procreation. Putting these aside, it is very clear that TEC has now completed the circle it began to draw over the past decade or so – a Diocesan bishop has, in the diocesan cathedral, conducted a same-sex marriage that is a similar to the 1979 prayer book as to not matter except in the finer detail of the theology.

The next theological question to be asked is whether such references that have be altered or excised in this liturgy (Ephesians 5 / Divine institution for procreation etc) will now be removed from the marriage liturgies of man and wife? If so then the Diocese of Mssachusetts will be engaging in a fundamental redfining of the doctrine of marriage. If not, then the Diocese of Massachusetts is left with a variant theology of marriage for same-sex couples from other-sex couples – they are seen in the liturgy to be of notable difference.

Please note – I welcome comments exploring the theology of this service and the issues I have raised. Negative comments designed to demean the couple and clergy involved will not be tolerated.

From “Goodridge vs. Department of Health” by Massachusetts
Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall
Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to
each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For
those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of
legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and
social obligations….Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the
community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance.” … Marriage also
bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil
marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a
highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity,
and family…. Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that
express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the
decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of selfdefinition.
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21 Comments on “Boston Gay Marriage – TEC have Completed the Circle

  1. Illuminating.

    And alarming.

    For if marriage cease to be about procreation, why stop at homosexual union? Why should they not also bless consensual heterosexual incest, if children are not an issue?

    His Grace will ponder this. Presumably, such a thing could not occur in the UK because Parliament has to authorise the Church of England's Prayer Book…

  2. I guess my good Archbishop has not noticed that marriage has failed to be about procreation for quite some time now. We do not now and never have required that people in marriages be fertile. Women past menopause, people who have been sterilized, either through election, accident or as a result of illness, are not prevented from marrying.

    In an overpopulated world, couples who do not procreate are desperately needed.

    • The theological issue is that that the Doctrine of Marriage in the BCP (England and the USA) both make the possibility of procreation (accepting that for reasons of the Fall some couples may not be able to conceive) an integral part of marriage, derived from a Scriptural prescription in Gen 1:28. It's removal from the Boston liturgy begs the question whether it should be removed from the BCP marriage service. If it isn't then same-sex marriage becomes theologically something different from other-sex marriage (one is ordained for procreation, one is not).

    • In biology function follows form so the State simply required the two gender forms be present to obtain a license knowing that more often than not nature will have it's way and procreative gender forms having procreative sex will often lead to procreation.

      The State doesn't care about orientation, motives, or plans. If a gay man & a gay woman were proceeded by a brass band with banners declaring they are gay and declared to the clerk they were gay they would still be granted a license to marry one another, correct?

  3. Here in the Diocese of Massachusetts I haven't heard about anyone who plans on rewriting the BCP marriage rite for straight couples, although I could have missed something, I suppose. It is gratifying, however, to learn from your observation "In some senses there is nothing remarkable about this liturgy and that is what makes it so significant. To all intents and purposes it is a normal marriage service with adaptions for the presence of same-sex spouses" that we here in the Episcopal Church have accomplished what we set out to do. Thank you for the affirmation.

  4. Sorry, I was writing at the same time as you…our fundamental disagreement, I believe, is your assertion about the doctrine of marriage in the BCP being completely dependent on one scriptural passage, literally understood.

    • Hi Michael,

      I don't think the doctrine of marriage hangs on one verse – rather the Genesis 1 reference is to procreation and that forms a part of the complete doctrine.

      That leaves the question that I asked above – if the liturgy for other sex spouses remains the same as in the 1979 prayer book but a new one (similar to the one used in Boston Cathedral) is introduced for same-sex couples, are not the two forms of marriage therefore qualitatively different?

      I think you put it absolutely right though when you say that TEC has achieved what it set out to do. The circle is completed.

  5. Marriage is also a means of witnessing to the world the love of God, of ordering society and setting boundaries on sexual love which was despoiled and perverted as a consequence of the Fall in Eden. The law (God's tool for discipleship) and the circumcision (the symbol of crucifixion of the flesh and lust, surrender to God) and marriage (the establishment of a healthy stable home in which to rear children) were/are God's means of restoring what was lost in Eden. The Cross/Blood/Resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of the living and written Word of God are the supreme means God has provided.
    Marriage is a school, a forge, a refining fire, a means of perpetuating a Holy Distinctive Faithful Healthy Worshipping People to reveal and reflect the character, goodness and glory and love of God.

  6. (continued)

    Homo-sexual behavior is sin (which may be translated as harm) because it does not conform to the Word and will of God. Scripture, science research, clinical medicine and mental health practice and CDC and police statistics have offered consistent evidence that it is unholy, unhealthy, unhappy and harmful…spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally and societally. Sin changes us negatively, interactively and cumulatively in all these ways. Science has shown that thoughts, words, actions and interpersonal interactions change the brain chemically, structurally and functionally. Human beings are like a complex living bio-chemical computer constantly being programmed and re-programmed and changed as this occurs.

    Science has shown that a happy marriage, stable home, traditional male, female parents and adherence to Christian values produces the best outcome.

    God, our Father truly does know best. If we love Him, we will want to follow His ways wholeheartedly, whatever the cost.

    • >>>>>>>Homo-sexual behavior is sin (which may be translated as harm) because it does not conform to the Word and will of God. Scripture, science research, clinical medicine and mental health practice and CDC and police statistics have offered consistent evidence that it is unholy, unhealthy, unhappy and harmful…spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally and societally.

      We can debate theology, but your point on science and clinical medicine is wrong-headed. Are you referring to Paul "kicked out the APA" Cameron's statistics (gay men only live to 40, lesbians 200 times more likely to die in a car crash) that are *still* (ridiculously) the 'evidence' cited on the evils of homosexuality, even if allegedly definitive and non-phobic resources like Gagnon's "The Bible and Homosexual Practise"? Not to be vulgar, but – to head the most common responses off at the pass – I'd note that damning indictments of the dangers of anal sex are not, in fact denunciations of homosexuality per se.

      Of course, if one's Scriptural readings lead one to accept ridiculous nonsense in defiance of the facts, then the probability is that said readings are wrong (c.f. young earth creationists).

      Incidently, your last lines in italics crack me up, Peter. Perhaps a tactic admission that 'orthodox' sites like Anglican Downstream or Titus 19 are overflowing with inane homophobic abuse? I can certainly understand why you wouldn't want your own excellent blog to be associated with them.

      • My statements are based on evidence, on research published in peer-reviewed journals by The National Library of Medicine and on reports and statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (USA).

        • Care to elaborate? I do hope you're not arguing something as inane as, say, most new HIV transmissions in the west are amongst gay men 'therefore' homosexuality per se is intrinsically dangerous? Heterosexual people who have sex without protection are liable to risk getting STDs too. As for mental health, homosexuality hasn't (as you know) been listed as a mental disorder for decades (which remains a fact however much it upsets NARTH and similar wingnuts)

  7. PS – My heartfelt congratulations to you and your family in the birth of your son! What a beautiful family you are. May the Lord bless and keep you always.

    PPS – this remake of your blog, while very attractive, is much harder to navigate and post comments. I am not sure if it's my computer (8 or so years old) or the remake. However, I don't have any trouble at MCJ and other Anglican blogs.

  8. Interesting problem and one that TEc will have to deal with when the SCLM makes its recommendations for liturgical "resources." Will there be a separate but equal liturgy? If so that will be easier to publish in a book of occasional services. But would that satisfy those wanting ssms to be equal in all respects to traditional marriage? In the long run, there can only be one theology of marriage for the denomination to print in future prayer books. Traditional language will have to be cut/italicized/put in parentheses/or footnoted or be placed in the "Historical Documents section.

  9. Undergoundpewster is right – there can't be one "kind" of marriage for one group and a "different" kind of marriage for another group. What about the marriages for those who are bisexual – is pastorally sensitive to make those individuals choose which gender to marry? Why not one of each? One could certainly make the case that would be far more pastorally sensitive and this liturgy is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of combinations. We can't have "separate but equal" – that's discrimination and why should one kind of combination trump all the others?

    Another issue here is that the liturgy is unauthorized – and so you can just make up what you want to fit the situation. Perhaps the next issue of the Book of Common Prayer will just be a book of blank pages and people can write in what they want as they need it.

    The irony is that the progressives complain that the conservatives are "congregational" and in doing so, spend much time quoting canons and maintaining how hierarchical The Episcopal Church is. But how can that position be defended when what we see here is a write-you-own liturgy-and-call-it a-marriage when it's not authorized by General Convention? The Episcopal Church is not hierarchical. You can write your own liturgies, stuff them with your own theologies, implement them to force social and cultural change, and then say the "spirit" made you do it.

    bb

  10. A minor (?) point as to procreation. Imagine a perfectly orthodox (use what definition you wish) Christian couple who are either past childbearing age (widow and widower, perhaps) or who cannot have children, but for whom there is no other impediment to a perfectly Christian marriage by traditional standards. Would the impossibility of procreation mean that the marriage was illicit in some way?

    Intended as rhetorical. I make no statement whatever about the particular "marriage" under consideration.

    • Good question.

      I think the Doctrine of Marriage in this area is more about the couple representing, in their male and femaleness, the way human beings fulfil the divine command to multiply and fill the earth. Of course, in a fallen world that is sometimes not possible, but the intent still remains and the sexual act is itself a reminder of that fact.

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