The leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, Bishop Andrew D. Smith, has authorized priests to give blessings to same-sex unions during religious ceremonies:
“I believe in my heart and soul that it is time for this church, this diocese, formally to acknowledge and support and bless our sisters and brothers who are gay and lesbian, including those who are living in faithful and faith-filled committed partnerships,” Bishop Smith said on Saturday in a speech at a diocesan conference in Hartford.
The Bishop's decision, does not authorize Episcopal clergy to officiate at civil unions. Rather, it allows each parish to choose whether to acknowledge same-sex couples during religious services.
Connecticut became only the second state to allow civil unions last year. Vermont has civil unions and Massachusetts has gay marriage.
According to the Times, nine other Episcopal dioceses — in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Long Island, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Vermont and Washington, D.C. — allow the blessing of same-sex couples.
How to deal with homosexuals continues to be a problem for the church. The election of V. Gene Robinson in 2003 as bishop of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop in the history of the denomination, strained relations between congregations in the United States and those in the rest of the world.
The Rev. Christopher Leighton, of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Darien, one of six priests who rebelled against the election of Bishop Robinson, said yesterday that the new policy complicated matters.
It’s not that we’re against gays. It’s rather that we’re affirming the traditional beliefs that only a man and a woman should be intimate for life in holy wedlock.
Bishop Smith blasted Leighton and the other rectors of the conservative parishes who sued the diocese in federal court. The suit concerns the Bishop's pastoral oversight of churches and property belonging to St. John's Church in Bristol, which the diocese took over after removing its rector.
The Hartford Courant reports gay rights leaders are pleased with this development:
"The Episcopal Church has taken a step to affirm the dignity and humanity of gay people in Christ's name," said Frank O'Gorman, of People of Faith for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights. "The love between couples gay or straight symbolizes the love of Christ for the church, and the church believes where love is, God is."
O'Gorman was less gracious when the state's civil union law was passed, saying it did not go far enough:
We want to take our rightful place at the marriage table. We don't want leftovers and we don't want second-class citizenship.