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By Auburn Traycik
VirtueOnline Correspondent

COLUMBUS, OH (6/17/2006)--Did Episcopal bishops effectively back same-sex marriage in a resolution they narrowly adopted late Friday?

Resolution A095, "Gay and Lesbian Affirmation" - which at this writing was still pending in the House of Deputies - reaffirms ECUSA's "historic support of homosexuals as "children of God and entitled to full civil rights; calls on local, state and national legislators to approve measures giving homosexuals certain protections and benefits, and - in its final resolve - opposes "any state or federal constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex civil marriage or civil unions."

An effort by some bishops to excise the third resolve failed.

Asked whether this amounted to an endorsement of gay marriage or same-sex civil unions, conservative bishops gave somewhat differing answers.

"It raises that question," agreed Rio Grande Bishop Jeffrey Steenson, who said he favors a constitutional amendment defining marriage. "Nobody even really debated it."

"It may have been (a vote for gay marriage)," said another prelate who asked not to be identified.

But conservative Central Florida Bishop John W. Howe, while saying he voted against the resolution, was definitive in saying this was not a thumbs up for same-sex marriage and civil unions.

"It was a "bad mistake" to pass the resolution, Howe said, but "I think most people saw [it] as contrasted to an ecclesiastical statement. It's a states' rights and justice issue.

Howe's view was echoed by moderate and liberal leaders we consulted. Most saw it as a statement against the recent attempt to put forward a constitutional amendment defining marriage in traditional terms.

Moderate Presiding Bishop candidate, Alabama Bishop Henry Parsley - who said he supported the bid to omit the third resolve - said that the latter is "all about civil rights" and does not support gay marriage or civil unions.

Agreeing was Bishop Otis Charles (who "came out" as a homosexual after retiring as Bishop of Utah). "It's not appropriate to amend the constitution to include a discriminatory provision," he said. Constitutional amendments have all been more inclusive, such as those that expanded voting rights to include women and blacks, he said.

Liberal Washington Bishop John Chane said the resolution speaks "to the broad concept of human rights" and is a "states' rights issue." It responds to the "real concern about a constitutional amendment [barring] gay marriage," which has "created a lot of mistrust and angst," he added.

He said the church had barely begun a discernment process on the matter of gay marriage, and that the canons are clear in barring clergy from officiating at same-sex marriage ceremonies. Asked about past gay blessing rites, Chane said that those are "blessings of relationships and not of marriage." Interestingly, though, he noted that the canons are silent about clergy officiating at civil union ceremonies, since this is a fairly new development in some U.S. states.

Louie Crew, founder of the Episcopal gay group Integrity, and a member of ECUSA's Executive Council, also mentioned the constitutional issue, but gave a slightly different answer than other liberal leaders. He said the third resolve of A095 is not an endorsement of gay marriage or civil unions, but "I don't think it's not, either."

IN A RELATED MATTER, the House of Bishops has passed an amended resolution which originally directed but now suggests that the church not hold its General Convention in a state that expressly "prohibits domestic partnerships or the rights associated therewith." The resolution is pending in the House of Deputies.


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