In response to the Bishop of Maryland's statement authorizing the clergy in his diocese to perform marriages between same-sex couples, a commenter wrote:
The Constitution and Canons seem pretty clear that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman ... Seriously - where is his authority to do this?Good question. First of all, he's hardly the first. There's a long list of bishops who have been doing precisely that as marriage equality has dawned in their dioceses. [note Bishop Shaw above at the Ragsdale/Lloyd nuptials on January 1.]
Now to the "authority" question. Here's an answer ... which begins by noting that the Canons arguably say nothing about marriage being "exclusively between a man and a woman."
Let's review. Canon I.18 (page 58) begins by instructing the clergy of this Church to "conform to the laws of the State governing the creation of the civil status of marriage" ...
CANON 18: Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony... and then continue with a "check list" -- which includes in (b) a description of marriage.
Sec. 1. Every Member of the Clergy of this Church shall conform to the laws of the State governing the creation of the civil status of marriage, and also to the laws of this Church governing the solemnization of Holy Matrimony.
Sec. 2. Before solemnizing a marriage the Member of the ClergyIt can be argued ... and indeed, is being argued ... that Canon 18.2b does not proscribe that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman ... rather it describes Holy Matrimony as "a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong" at a time when that was indeed the case. And it can be argued ... and indeed, is being argued ... that the values the make up the marriage transcend the gender of the couple committing to live out those values until death do they part.
shall have ascertained:
(a) That both parties have the right to contract a marriage
according to the laws of the State.
(b) That both parties understand that Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong.
(c) That both parties freely and knowingly consent to such
marriage, without fraud, coercion, mistake as to identity of a
partner, or mental reservation.
(d) That at least one of the parties has received Holy Baptism.
(e) That both parties have been instructed as to the nature,
meaning, and purpose of Holy Matrimony by the Member of
the Clergy, or that they have both received such instruction
from persons known by the Member of the Clergy to be
competent and responsible.
It can be argued ... and indeed, is being argued ... that the descriptive nature of the language in Canon 18.2b does not "trump" the instructive nature of Section 18.1 to "conform to the laws of the State governing the civil status of marriage" -- and that bishops are operating within the spirit of the law (canon) when they authorize the clergy in their dioceses to stand on right side of history by offering equal blessing and equal protection to the same-sex couples coming to them for the blessing and solemnization of their civil marriage ... now available in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington, D.C. -- and coming soon to the states of Maryland and Washington. (And ... I believe ... coming BACK to California.)
My not definitive quick survey tells me that four of six New York bishops as well as the bishops of Maryland, Washington and Olympia have all come down on side of equality. I know my bishop, Jon Bruno, did while we had marriage equality here in California and I expect him to reiterate same when we get it back (sooner, I hope, rather than later.)
Is it messy? Yes. Do the canons need updating? Absolutely! Will we be working to make that happen in Indianapolis in July? (rhetorical question ... of course we will be!) In the meantime, is a bishop acting beyond his or her authority to permit clergy in their diocese to bless and solemnize marriages between same-sex couples? We don't think so.
Hope that helps!