Vermont Episcopal Diocese formalizes same-sex ceremonies

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(Host) The Episcopal Church in Vermont will formally embrace gay and lesbian unions with a standardized ceremony. The church says it will establish a policy on blessing same-sex unions in the same way there is a diocese-wide policy for marriage. It’s only the second Episcopal diocese in the country to formally embrace gay and lesbian unions.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Clergy in the Vermont Episcopal Diocese have been blessing same-gender unions ever since Vermont passed its landmark civil unions law four years ago. But until now it’s been up to individual clergy to decide the best way to do that.

On Friday, the diocese announced there will be a church-wide policy for blessing these unions. The policy will include guidance for clergy and couples, and liturgy for same-sex ceremonies.

(Thomas Ely) “Let me give you an example from the ‘Prayers of the People’ that will be used: ‘Grant to Mary and Ethel the wisdom and vision to see Your vision in each other and the courage to honor You in their love for each other…'”

(Zind) Vermont Episcopal Bishop Thomas Ely says the new policy means clergy will be reading from the same page in blessing same sex unions. But by formalizing the way it approaches these unions, the diocese is treating them in the same way it treats marriage.

(Ely) “I think it also sends a signal to the gay and lesbian community, to our church, that when we say ‘the Episcopal Church welcomes you,’ we mean it. So in that sense, yeah, it’s an evangelism opportunity for us. And not just for gay and lesbian couples. There are plenty of straight folk who like being part of the Episcopal Church because we have this commitment to a more radical inclusion of all our members.”

(Zind) In adopting the policy Vermont becomes only the second Episcopal diocese in the country, after Washington D.C., to formalize the way it blesses same-sex unions. National church leaders passed a resolution last summer declaring that the church embraces the unions. Ely says what the Vermont Diocese has done may serve as a model for others. He says the blessings for same sex unions will be different than that used for marriage because church canon specifies that marriage is intended for a man and a woman.

The policy is the result of work done by a task force appointed by Ely. Stan Baker was a member of the task force. Baker was also a party in the lawsuit that resulted in the Vermont Supreme Court decision that led to the civil unions law. Baker says it’s up to each faith community to decide how to approach same sex unions but he’s please with the approach of the Vermont Episcopal Church.

(Baker) “To have both our civil union and the holy union happen together and to have our religious community and our families and the state of Vermont all recognize that was a very powerful experience.”

(Zind) Bishop Ely says he expects some negative reaction in Vermont to the new policy but he thinks most Episcopalians will welcome the decision.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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