Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: Episcopal Church
With an estimated 2.3 million members, the Episcopal Church is open and welcoming of the LGBT community. Unlike the Worldwide Anglican Communion, of which it is a part, the Episcopal Church does not condemn homosexuality. Instead, the denomination welcomes LGBT people as members, and some Episcopal dioceses permit the blessing of same-sex unions. In 2003, the Episcopal Church ordained the first openly gay bishop in the United States. All orders of ministry are now open to include all baptized LGBT members of the church.
The Episcopal Church’s passage of Resolution “D012, Support of Transgender Civil Rights” at General Convention 2009 , which is the church’s national governing body, was designed to give ecclesiological support to efforts such as the Diocese of Massachusetts advocacy campaign to pass a Transgender Civil Rights bill, which sought to extend nondiscrimination protection based on gender preference.
Openly Gay Clergy
The Episcopal Church ordained its first openly gay priest in 1989 and, in 1994, passed a resolution explicitly affirming that gay, lesbian and bisexual people could not be refused ordination in the Episcopal Church. It stated:
“No one shall be denied access to the selection process for ordination in this church because of race, color, ethnic origin, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by these canons.”
In 2003, it made history — and no small amount of controversy — by electing the first openly gay bishop. The Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who lives with his husband, was consecrated as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. While a joyous moment, the ordination led to a rebuke from the Worldwide Anglican Communion the following year.
Critics of Robinson’s ordination argued that the church violated Anglican Communion rules that forbid the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians, as well as the blessing of same-sex unions, and predicted that a schism would result.
In fact, in October 2004, the Lambeth Commission of the Anglican Communion released a report that rebuked the Episcopal Church for Robinson’s ordination and for permitting the blessing of same-sex unions. Entitled the Windsor Report, it stated:
“The Commission regrets that without attaching sufficient importance to the interests of the wider Communion:
- The Episcopal Church (USA) proceeded with the consecration of Gene Robinson
- The 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) declared 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.'"
The report asked the Episcopal Church to issue an “expression of regret” that its actions had caused division within the Anglican Communion and called for a halt on both blessing same-sex unions and ordaining openly gay clergy members “until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.” It did not call for Robinson’s resignation or expel the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion, but it did note, “There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together.”
The Anglican Communion recommended that the Episcopal Church refuse to approve the ordination of bishops in same-sex relationships in the future. Instead, the U.S. House of Bishops voted in March 2005 to suspend the ordination of any new bishops, gay or straight, for one year, until the 2006 General Convention.
However, at the 2009 General Convention, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies passed a measure that effectively opened all orders of ministry to baptized LGBT members of the church.
The Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, of Baltimore, was ordained and consecrated in May 2010, making her the second openly gay bishop in church history and one of the first two female bishops in the Diocese of Los Angeles' 114-year history.
In November 2010, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson announced that he will be retiring as Bishop earlier than his term is set to end.
The church has had a policy of supporting and ministering to same-sex couples since 2000. In 2003, the General Convention, recognizing that some churches bless same-sex unions and some don’t, left that decision up to the individual dioceses, stating:
“In our understanding of homosexual persons, differences exist among us about how best to care pastorally for those who intend to live in monogamous, non-celibate unions; and what is, or should be, required, permitted, or prohibited by the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church concerning the blessing of the same. … 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.”
In March 2005, a national governing body for the denomination, the House of Bishops, responded to a recommendation from the Worldwide Anglican Communion that they impose an official moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions. In the Covenant Statement, the bishops acknowledged that there was no consensus within the issue but said they would not officially recognize same-sex unions for at least one year:
“It is important that we clarify that the Episcopal Church has not authorized any such liturgies, nor has General Convention requested the development of such rites. The Primates, in their communiqué ‘assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship.’ … Some in our church hold such ‘pastoral care’ to include the blessing of same sex relationships. Others hold that it does not. Nevertheless, we pledge not to authorize any public rites for the blessing of same sex unions, and we will not bless any such unions, at least until the General Convention of 2006.”
At the 2009 General Convention, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies voted to approve a measure that allowed Episcopal bishops to bless same-sex marriages at their discretion. The 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which said that bishops, “particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church”.The Houses also voted to begin a process of writing official liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions.
Opposition to Discrimination
The church has prohibited discrimination against gays and lesbians since 1976. In 1985, the General Convention spoke out against hate crimes based on sexual orientation and encouraged federal officials to take action against such violence. The same year, the church publicly denounced the then-popular belief that AIDS was “the punishment of God upon homosexual persons.”
In 1997, the General Convention passed a resolution apologizing for past “sins” against gay and lesbian people. It stated:
“This 72nd General Convention apologizes on behalf of the Episcopal Church to its members who are gay or lesbian and to lesbians and gay men outside the Church for years of rejection and maltreatment by the Church. … This Church repents of its sins committed against lesbian and gay people — physical, psychological and spiritual — through covert and overt action and inaction. We seek amendment of our life together and we ask for God’s help in sharing the Good News with all people.”
Resolutions on Gender Identity
The 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church adopted four resolutions addressing gender identity and transgender individuals. Two of them support enactment of civil sector anti-discrimination and hate crimes legislation protecting transgender people at local, state, and federal levels.
The Convention also adopted two other resolutions pertaining to Church policy that are inclusive of gender identity. One resolution, “Non-discrimination in Employment,” adds "gender identity and expression" to the Church’s non-discrimination policy for hiring lay employees. The other resolution, “Inclusive Church Paper Work” calls for the revision of church paper and electronic forms to allow a wider range of gender identifications.
Resources for LGBT Episcopalians
Integrity is a nonprofit social and advocacy group for LGBT Episcopalians and straight allies, with chapters around the nation.
TransEpiscopal is a group of transgender Episcopalians and their significant others, families, friends, and allies dedicated to enriching their spiritual lives and to making the Episcopal Church a welcoming and empowering place that all can truly call their spiritual home.
Beyond Inclusion offers resources on same-sex commitment ceremonies within the Episcopal Church.
Claiming the Blessing is a coalition of pro-equality Episcopal organizations that has a goal of “promoting wholeness in human
relationships, abolishing prejudice and oppression, and healing the rift between sexuality and spirituality in the Church.”
The Witness magazine is a progressive, unofficial publication for members of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion that supports equal rights for LGB Episcopalians.
If you would like to communicate with the Episcopal Church, here is their mailing address:
Episcopal Church Center
815 Second Ave.
New York, NY 10017