DIOCESE OF RIO GRANDE: Priests Can Bless Gay Unions. Some parishes may opt out
By Deborah Ziff
Journal Staff Writer
January 7, 2013
Episcopal priests in the Rio Grande Diocese can begin to bless same-sex relationships following an announcement by Bishop Michael Vono that he would provide an official liturgy, as of Sunday, for that purpose.
The announcement comes six months after the General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved a liturgy enabling priests to bless same-sex relationships with the approval of their bishops. The blessings are allowed both in states where same-sex marriages are legal or, as in the case of New Mexico, where they are not.
"It's not a marriage in any way," Vono said in an interview Sunday. "It's not a legal marriage. It's not a marriage in the church. This is a recognition of a commitment, which is a covenant, of two people who vow to live their lives in a monogamous relationship."
The Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande includes close to 60 congregations in New Mexico and part of western Texas.
Vono convened an 18-member advisory committee last March - in anticipation of the General Convention - which spent the last nine months developing a "Covenant of Understanding" that concerns the blessing of faithful unions of gay and lesbian Christian relationships, according to a news release from the diocese.
Vono stressed that "no priest or congregation is required to offer these liturgical blessings," in a letter that was included with liturgical resources. Vono said he expects that there would be congregations with traditional clergy within the diocese who will choose not to administer the blessing.
Vono said the liturgy has similar structure to a marriage rite, "except the wording really makes reference to these facets of a relationship, and of faithfulness, and of friendship and honesty and openness and monogamous relationships."
The decision marks a continued progressive movement by the Episcopal Church when it comes to gay and lesbian devotees. In 2003, the church approved the consecration of its first openly gay bishop and three years ago, priests were given provisional permission to bless gay couples if their bishops allowed it.
The moves have prompted some priests and congregations to leave the church.
In 2007, the Rev. Jeffrey Steenson resigned from his role as bishop of the Rio Grande Diocese, asserting that he was "deeply troubled about where the Episcopal Church is heading." In 2008, Trinity at the Marketplace in Albuquerque announced it was joining a more traditional church after leaving the Episcopal Church.
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