Little clearly sees the religious blessing of same-gender couples as a First Amendment issue that cannot be interfered with by city, county, state or federal civil agencies.
“We believe we are concluding that the First Amendment to our US Constitution forbids a state from enforcing any law prohibiting same-gender blessings by an ordained person,” he explained.
The first part of the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Little stated, “I think it is more important to focus on ‘prohibiting the free exercise thereof’ clause – the Free Exercise Clause.”
He went on to explain that the church’s Act of Blessing was a fundamental act of religious freedom supported by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Little theorizes that if Episcopal clergy content themselves with just performing the “blessing of relationships” rather than attempt to “solemnize a civil marriage” the state authorities have no legal leg to stand on because the cleric performed a “religious act” not a “legal function”. “Fundamentally the blessing of a relationship is the exercise of religious faith, whereas the solemnizing of a marriage is an official act of a member of the clergy as an agent of the state.” he delineated. “The First Amendment recognizes the difference between the two and protects the former.”
Turning to church canons and the Book of Prayer Book, the Vermont chancellor noted that Episcopal clergy are required to follow the marriage laws of the state they are in, explaining that there are disciplinary sanctions in place for clergy who violate state law in performing same-gender marriages in states which outlaw them.
However, the Vermont attorney feels that clergy who perform blessings only, devoid of the “language of marriage”, are not in violation of Prayer Book rubrics, church canons or civil law.
He strongly suggests that clergy use a “trial use liturgy” for same-gender blessing thereby side stepping the need to amend the Episcopal Church Constitution, Canons and Book of Common Prayer to reflect the current reality of same-gender blessings, unions, and marriages.
The task that remained for the Deputies was how to bring their parishes, deputations, deaneries, dioceses, and provinces the fullness and richness, challenge and engagement of the Atlanta experience and communicate what they learned through the Indaba process.
One of the Province I Deputies concluded that the dissemination of information and the discussion of same-gender liturgies was an “okay Lenten topic” for churches to tackle.
Tobias Haller, BSG, a priest-member of the Episcopal Brotherhood of St. Gregory and a Standing Committee member of the Diocese New York, felt the two-day meeting was personally edifying.
“This is very meaningful to me. I’ve done a lot of work on this subject over the last 15 years, and more importantly I lived it longer than that,” the monk revealed. “As my partner and I celebrated our 30th anniversary last December.”
– An extract from an Atlanta Report by Mary Anne Mueller –
“Fundamentally the blessing of a relationship is the exercise of religious faith, whereas the solemnizing of a marriage is an official act of a member of the clergy as an agent of the state.” – Diocese of Vermont U.S.A Chancellor –
“He went on to explain that the church’s Act of Blessing was a fundamental act of religious freedom supported by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“However, the Vermont attorney feels that clergy who perform blessings only, devoid of the “language of marriage”, are not in violation of Prayer Book rubrics, church canons or civil law.”
Here, in a nutshell, is the considered legal situation in the United States, of the official standing of TEC regarding the Prayer Books Rubrics’ position on what have now become known as ‘Same-Sex Blessings’
The Vermont Chancellor was clarifying the legal difference between performing a ‘marriage’ of 2 same-sex persons, and the performance of a simple ‘Same-Sex Blessing’. The obvious connotation here is that TEC would be legally entitled by law to authorise Same-Sex Blessings in any American State; but that this would not be true in every state – as the situation stands at this point in time – of a bid to perform a Same-Sex Marriage.
The Views of members of this meeting will be conveyed to the next General Convention of the Episcopal Church, for their consideration – as part of an agreed process.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch