If you have not heard by now, let me be the first to tell you. Today the Episcopal Church voted to amend the canonical definition of marriage and to authorize for use three liturgies for marriage including a gender neutral version of the marriage liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer. For more information on the decisions check out the Episcopal News Service article here.
This decision wasn’t just another resolution we pushed through. This work has been in process for 40 years. At the last General Convention in 2012, we passed the liturgical resource “I will bless you and you will be a bless” for provisional use. If you asked me before coming out to Salt Lake City what would happen with marriage I would have guess something along the lines of tweaks to the liturgy authorized in 2012 and a call for more study. That is exactly what did not happen.
For the three previous General Conventions I have been following closely the debates regarding marriage equality. Due to my own legislative committee I did not have the opportunity to attend the hearings. But, I heard the attendance was drastically lower than previous years and only two people spoke against the equality resolutions. For someone not involved with Integrity, it seemed that there was very little fuss about marriage equality – especially compared to previous years. Things shifted yet again with the recent Supreme Court decision which I blogged about last week. Once that decision was handed down, I had the sense that The Episcopal Church would follow right behind. Frankly, how could we not.
A few days ago the resolutions made their way through the House of Bishops and were sent for concurrence to the House of Deputies. Today at a time certain (which we were late for due to a continuation of the structure debates and a joint session for the presentation of the budget) the House of Deputies took up marriage equality in both canon and liturgy.
The chair of the Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Music legislative committee issued their reports on the two resolutions. We debated each resolution for twenty minutes and then the vote was taken. There was a small handful of “conservative” dioceses that called for a Vote by Orders (one vote is cast per order per diocese – one vote for the lay order of each diocese and one vote for the clergy order of each diocese. If three or four deputies vote in favor the order submits a yes vote, if the deputation splits two and two the vote is divided the vote counts as a no vote, and if one deputy or no deputies vote in favor the order submits a no vote. Hope fully that doesn’t muddy the waters too much.) The Vote by Orders added some drama to the situation. The testimonies were powerful and passionate – all opinions did their best to push their way of thinking. Tears were shed, people rejoiced, and some were saddened and disappointed. But none of this is what I found the most striking. What was the most profound, what has been imprinted with me is the silence observed after each vote.
After each vote was cast, and before the results were announced, the President of the House of Deputies – Gay Clark Jennings – called the house to refrain from cheering so to recognize the diversity of opinions in the house. I did not think the House and the visitors gallery would actually follow the directive. But they did.
Before each vote we prayed, and when then the vote was announced the house was silent.
After the liturgical resolution we moved on to the canonical resolution and the same things happened. At the end of the debate period, we prayed, voted by orders, the vote was closing, the vote closed, the vote was announced, and we were silent. There was a serious in the House unlike I had ever experienced before. As we transitioned from one resolution to the next, from liturgical to canonical and from canonical to the consent calendar there was something almost eerie about the house. It was silent. It was serious. It was powerful.
I was keenly aware that I had just been apart of something historic, something that people will write about some day – the day The Episcopal Church officially supported marriage equality. The day we changed our canons to say that all people no matter their biological sex can participate in the sacrament of marriage.
I have been in the house when amazing things, historic things happened that garnered the cheering of the house. This was not one of those events and as a result of the silence this seemed more important.
The Silence of the afternoon carried me out of the session and off for the rest of my evening. As I sit in my hotel room with nothing but the sound of the clicking keys on my computer I can’t help but be reminded of the silence and power in the house. That power showed us at our best – celebrating all of God’s beloved children. No matter how they voted on marriage equality.