(in the Episcopal Church in general and in the Diocese of Los Angeles in particular)
Compiled by Susan Russell and updated March 2013
SOME HISTORY: The Episcopal Church has been officially debating the issue of human sexuality, particularly as it applies to gay and lesbian people, since 1976 when General Convention resolutions began to frame the parameters of the debate.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church is a bicameral legislative body made up of lay people, clergy and bishops. It meets every three years and is the only body that can authoritatively speak for the whole church.
In 1976, the General Convention 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."
But there continues to be a wide diversity about just how we live out that understanding in the Episcopal Church.
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.
In 1994, that report, “Continuing the Dialogue,” was published and is highly recommended as a resource for more detailed information.
While resolutions from General Convention are important aspects of our polity - the process through which we govern the church - they are generally perceived to be recommendatory and therefore lacking the force of a canon or law. The only canon to deal with the issue of homosexual orientation in any specific way was adopted in 1994:
"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.
In 1998, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, meeting in July at their every ten-year gathering in Canterbury, passed 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.
In December 1998, the Diocese of Los Angeles responded to the bishops at Lambeth by passing a resolution "that this convention cannot receive that portion of Section (d) "'rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.'"
ACTIONS OF GENERAL CONVENTIONS of THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
C024 APPROVED HEALTH BENEFITS FOR DOMESTIC PARTNERS, to be extended to the partners of clergy and lay employees in dioceses that wish to do so.
D011 It also 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.
(A009) The IDENTIFICATION OF “SAFE SPACES,” establishing a formal process for congregations to identify themselves as safe spaces for GLBT people;
(A046) CONVERSATION WITH YOUTH AND YOUNG ADULTS ABOUT SEXUALITY;
(A080) DIALOGUE ON FIDELITY IN HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS;
(C031) recommending that congregations engage in dialogue with the BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA REGARDING THEIR POLICY ON HOMOSEXUALS
(D039) Arguably the most influential resolution adopted in Denver was D039 “Human Sexuality: Issues Related to Sexuality and Relationships.” Passed overwhelmingly by a voice vote in the House of Deputies and by a 119-19 margin this important resolution broke new ground by moving the Episcopal Church into conversations about relationship that transcend sexual orientation.
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:
4. 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.
5. 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.
Following the gains made in Minneapolis in 2003, pressure was put on the wider Anglican Communion to censure the American Episcopal Church. In 2004 "The Windsor Report" was published. In 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.
(Ironically, this was also the General Convention that elected the first woman as Presiding Bishop -- an event that most certainly led "to further strains on communion" in-and-of-itself.)
In December 2006 the Diocese of Los Angeles passed a resolution voicing "protest and disagreement with Resolution B033" and called upon "the Bishops and Standing Committee of this Diocese to uphold canon law in both letter and spirit when considering consents to the consecrations of new bishops."
In 2008 the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops was held in Canterbury. The Bishop of New Hampshire was not invited to attend. Also in 2008, the California Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in favor of marriage equality and the Proposition 8 campaign sought to overturn that decision through the initiative process. A095 had already put the Episcopal Church on record opposing "any state or federal constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex civil marriage or civil unions" and all six California Episcopal Bishops with jurisdiction came out together in opposition to Prop 8.
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 by:
(C056) Liturgies for Blessings (calling for the collection and development of liturgical and theological resources for the blessing of same-sex realtionships) and
(D025) Commitment and Witness to Anglican Communion (ending the defacto moratoria on election of gay or lesbian bishops)
A number of LGBT related resolutions were adopted by the 77th General Convention meeting in Indianapolis in July of 2012. They included:
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-Discrmination Canons
In February 2013:
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. Details here.
And 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.) Details here.