by the Reverend Canon Susan Russell
The Episcopal Church has been officially debating the issue of human sexuality in general and how it applies to LGBTQ people in specific since the General Convention of 1976 when resolutions passed by the Bishops and Deputies began to frame the parameters of the debate.
In the intervening years resolutions have been passed and then amended as the church's position has evolved in response to the dialogue.
In 1976, the 65th General Convention of the Episcopal Church asserted in a resolution (A069) that "homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the Church" and faithful witnesses to God's inclusive love have been working ever since to make that resolution a reality for all members of the human family.
Here is an timeline of some of that work -- with grateful thanks to all who have labored to call the Episcopal Church its full stature as a truly inclusive Body of Christ.
70th General Convention | Phoenix 1991
In 1991, at the General Convention held in Phoenix acknowledged its inability to resolve the complex issues surrounding human sexuality by means of the normal legislative process. The Convention opted instead for a process of continued study and dialogue across the whole church, with a report to be issued from the House of Bishops.
71st General Convention | Indianapolis 1994
“Continuing the Dialogue” -- the study called for by in 1991-- was published and is highly recommended as a resource for more detailed information. Available here.
B012 - Authorize Appointment of a Committee on Dialogue on Human Sexuality was adopted, calling for the study of "Continuing the Dialogue" and "commit to dialogue in faith with no expectation of uniformity."
The only canon to deal with the issue of homosexual orientation in any specific way was adopted in 1994 when the canons on ordination were amended to add "sexual orientation" to the non-discrimination list:
"All Bishops of Dioceses and other Clergy shall make provisions to identify fit persons for Holy Orders and encourage them to present themselves for Postulancy. No one shall be denied access to the selection process for ordination in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, or age, except as otherwise specified by these Canons." -- Title III, Canon 4, Section 1 of the Constitution and Canons for the Government of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, p. 60In 1996, the Court of Trial for a Bishop refused to hear charges filed against Bishop Walter Righter for ordaining a gay man living in a relationship. The court said there was no doctrine against such an ordination and that there is no canonical bar to gay and lesbian ordination in the Episcopal Church.
72nd General Convention | Philadelphia 1997
C024 - Approved healthcare benefits, to be extended to the partners of clergy and lay employees in dioceses that wish to do so.
D011 - Voted to apologize on behalf of the Episcopal Church to its members who are gay and lesbian and to the lesbians and gay men outside the Church for years of rejection and maltreatment by the Church and affirm that this Church seeks amendment of our life together as we ask God's help in sharing the Good News with all people.
In 1998, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, meeting in July at their every ten-year gathering in Canterbury, adopted Lambeth Resolution 1:10 -- which was entitled "Human Sexuality" and included the majority opinion of the bishops gathered at that conference that "homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture" and "cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions."
Much energy has been spent over the intervening years debating whether that language was descriptive of the bishops gathered at Lambeth '98 or proscriptive for the wider communion.
73rd General Convention | Denver 2000
A009 - Identification of Safe Spaces: establishing a formal process for congregations to identify themselves as safe spaces for GLBT people;
A046 - Urge Conversation with Youth and Young Adults About Sexuality;
A080 - Commend Dialogue on Fidelity in Human Relationships;
C031 - Recommend Engaging the Boy Scouts on Issues of Sexuality Orientation
D039 - Acknowledge Relationships Other Than Marriage and Existence of Disagreement
D039 was adopted overwhelmingly by a voice vote in the House of Deputies and by a 119 -19 margin in the House of Bishops. An “8th Resolve” which called for the preparation of rites for inclusion in the Book of Occasional Services failed to pass by a narrow margin in both houses. However, this important resolution broke new ground by moving the Episcopal Church into conversations about relationship that transcend sexual orientation ... and set the stage for the 2003 General Convention in Minneapolis.74th General Convention | Minneapolis 2003
In addition to consenting to the election of V. Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire, the 2003 General Convention in Minneapolis passed a landmark resolution moving the church forward on the blessing of same-sex unions:
C051 - Blessing of Committed Same-Gender Relationships
Key resolves included:
Resolved, That we reaffirm Resolution D039 of the 73rd General Convention (2000), that "We expect such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God," and that such relationships exist throughout the church.
Resolved, That we recognize that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions..These two important steps -- consent to the election of an openly gay, partnered bishop and the recognition that the blessing of unions falls "within the bounds of our common life" -- became a flash point for those insisting that the differences that challenge us cannot be bridged, but must become divisions that separate us.
2003 - 2006
Following the gains made in Minneapolis in 2003, pressure was put on the wider Anglican Communion to censure the American Episcopal Church.
- 2004 -- "The Windsor Report" was published.
- 2005 -- The Episcopal Church presented its response to the Windsor Report -- "To Set Our Hope on Christ" -- at the Nottingham meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council.
The 2006 General Convention was consumed by responding the Windsor Report and whether or not American bishops would be invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference -- the every 10 year gathering of Anglican bishops.
After nine day of legislation, a series of "response to Windsor" resolutions were passed:
A159 - Affirm Commitment to the Anglican Communion
A160 - Express Regret for Straining the Bonds of the Church
A165 - Commend the Windsor Report and Commit to the "Windsor Process"
A166 - Support Development of an Anglican Covenant
In addition, General Convention voted to:
A167 - Reaffirm Church Membership of Gay and Lesbian Persons
A095 - Reaffirm Support of Gay and Lesbian Persons
D005 - Oppose Criminalization of Homosexuality
Resolutions submitted insisting on "compliance" with aspects of the Windsor Report that recommended moratorium on the blessing of unions or discrimination against partnered gay or lesbian candidates for bishop were rejected.
On the 10th and last legislative day, an unprecedented joint session of the Houses of Bishops & Deputies was presented with Resolution B033 by then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. The resolution that passed both houses was entitled "Exercise Restraint in Consecrating Candidates" and read:
Resolved, That the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report's invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further
Resolved, That this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.
In 2008 the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops was held in Canterbury. The Bishop of New Hampshire was not invited to attend. However, Claiming the Blessing was there as part of an Inclusive Communion Witness Team. More details on that here.
76th General Convention | Anaheim 2009
Two primary goals were set out for this General Convention by LGBT activists: moving beyond B033 and forward on the blessing of same sex unions. Both were accomplished with the adoption of 2009-C056 and 2009-D025 ... linked and excerpted below:
C056 - Liturgies for Blessings
Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological and liturgical resources, and report to the 77th General Convention; and be it further
D025 - Commitment and Witness to Anglican Communion
Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further
Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, and that God's call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further
Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.
Additionally, in response to the awesome work of TransEpiscopal on the ground in Anaheim, GC76 adopted a first-ever resolution addressing gender identity:
D012 - Support Laws that Prohibit Discrimination Based on Gender Identity
77th General Convention | Indianapolis 2012
A number of LGBT related resolutions were adopted by the 77th General Convention meeting in Indianapolis in July of 2012. They included authorizing liturgies for blessing same-sex relationships, creating a task force to study marriage in general and the marriage of same-sex couples in specific, standing in support of civil marriage for same-sex couples and opposing transgender discrimination.
A049 - Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships
A050 - Create Task Force on the Study of Marriage
D018 - End Discrimination Against Same-Sex Marriages
D002 - Affirming Access to the Ordination Process (ending discrimination against transgender ordination)
D019 - Adding Gender Identity and Gender Expression to Non-Discrimination Canons
D061 - Adopt Statement on Threats to Sexual Minorities
2012 - 2015
- Over two dozen Episcopal Bishops signed amici ("friend of the court") briefs on the two marriage equality cases being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. Details here.
- The "Task Force on the Study of Marriage" called for by Resolution A050 was convened and charged with reporting back to the 2015 General Convention (to be held in Salt Lake City.) The Task Force created a Facebook Group to communicate progress and receive feedback. Visit their FB group here.
- The Report to the 78th General Convention of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage was released in February 2015. It included a resolution calling for canonical changes that would end discrimination against the marriage of same-sex couples. Details here.
- In March 2015, President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings was a primary signer of the amicus brief filed by over 2000 faith leaders calling for the Supreme Court to overturn existing bans on civil marriage between same-sex couples in some states. Details here.
In 2015, the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church met in Salt Lake City — where we saw extraordinary progress toward the goal of ending marriage discrimination with the adoption of resolutions that amended our canons on marriage and approved liturgies for equal use by same and opposite sex couples.
Additionally, on the second legislative day (June 26, 2015) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Obgerfell v Hodges and held in a 5–4 decision that the Fourteenth Amendment requires all states to grant same-sex marriage and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states.
A036 - Amend Canon I.18 [Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony]
A037 - Appoint Expanded Task Force on the Study of Marriage
A054 - Authorize Trial Use of Marriage/Blessing Rites
Authorization of the rites for marriage were placed under the authority of the bishop with jurisdiction with the caveat: "Bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision, will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to these liturgies."
The 78th General Convention also adopted the following resolutions:
D051 - Support LGBTI Advocacy in Africa
C037 - Support and Sponsor Boy Scout Units -- supporting the move to inclusive scouting
D037 - Amend Church Records to Reflect Name Changes
2015 - 2018
- The years between 2015-2018 saw widespread adoption and availability of the rites for marriage approved for trial use by all couples throughout the Episcopal Church.
- The expanded Task Force on the Study of Marriage (TFSM) reported that the bishop with jurisdiction did not authorize the use of the liturgies in only 8 out of 101 domestic dioceses ... and that in those 8 dioceses "make provision for all couples" was very broadly interpreted.
- In the Diocese of Tennessee a grassroots groups called All Sacraments for All People gave voice to those seeking marriage in the Episcopal Church and still on the margins due to their bishop's policy.
79th General Convention | Austin 2018
When General Convention met in Austin, legislation regarding marriage was referred to Committee 13 -- the Committee on Prayer Book Revision ("Committee to Receive the Report of A169"). The Blue Book Report TFSM included resolutions recommending amendment of the prayer book to align with the canonical changes made in 2015 (e.g. replacing "between a man and a woman" with "between two persons") and re-authorization of the marriage rites for trial use ... removing "under the authority of the bishop" to ensure they would be truly available in all dioceses.
A compromise resolution -- "Marriage Rites for the Whole Church" -- was adopted by an overwhelming margin and gave rectors or clergy in charge the ability to provide access to the trial rites for marriage. Changes to the prayer book on marriage were deferred along with other prayer book revisions. And a resolution calling for a Task Force on Communion Across Difference -- to "seek a pathway toward mutual flourishing" -- was also adopted.
B012 - Marriage Rites for the Whole Church
A227 - Communion Across Difference
A088 - Proposed Guidelines For Amending Church Records
A086 - Authorize Rites to Bless Relationships
As a follow up to GC79, ENS senior editor Mary Frances Schjonberg wrote this excellent summation feature outlining both the progress made and the challenges ahead as we continue to work to make full and equal claim truly full and equal throughout the Episcopal Church.
80th General Convention | Baltimore 2021
TBD ... La lucha continua!