Sacrament of Same-Sex Marriage
by Robert Warren Cromey, Rector
© 1996, Robert Warren Cromey
I was asked if I believed the marriage of same-sex partners was the same as the sacrament of marriage between opposite-sex couples. The questions arose after my appearance on ABC’s television program “Turning Point,” which aired on Thursday, November 7, 1996. I had allowed the taping of a same-sex marriage in Trinity Church, San Francisco where I am rector.
Yes, same- and opposite-sex marriage is the same.
The articles of faith in the 1978 Book of Common Prayer, p.857, says, “The sacraments are the outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” The outward and visible signs in marriage are two people. The inward and spiritual grace is the couple’s vows and the assurance of God’s blessing on the couple.
Marion Hatchett’s book Commentary on the American Prayer Book, p.579, says, “Augustine defined sacrament as a ‘sign of a sacred thing,’ and medieval theologians stressed the fact that a sacrament not only signified but conveyed what it signified.” Marriage conveys what it signifies. Marriage conveys vows of fidelity, life long union and love. One doesn’t have to be of the opposite sex to convey the significance of marriage.
We also know that the ministers in the marriage are not the clergy, but the couple. This means that the sacrament of marriage happens with or without the clergy and the church. It happens when the couple chooses to enter into the covenant of marriage. They may go to the church and ask the assistance of the clergy for counsel, prayer and, in the American church, sign some legal documents. These have nothing to do with the sacramental nature of the marriage. The church is ready to assist straight people but not gays and lesbians.
The Book of Common Prayer continues on p.861 with, “Holy Matrimoney is Christian marriage, in which woman and man enter into a life-long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows.”
I believe that same-sex couples enter marriage and holy matrimony when they “enter into a life-long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows.”
It has been my experience that some same-sex couples clearly desire to “enter into a life-long union.” That is their wish, desire and intent. They “make their vows before God and the church.”
I believe they “receive grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows.” As celebrant and witness to such blessings, I ask God to give grace and bless the couple. I assume God does that. I am not willing to limit God’s grace and blessing in any matter. I assume God graces and blesses same-sex couples as He does opposite-sex couples, just because they ask for God’s blessing and grace. We have no proof that God provides those gifts, we accept on faith that He does — for opposite-sex as well as same-sex couples.
Paul’s words are that marriage is the sign of the mystical union between Christ and His church. The personal and sexual intimacy between the couples speaks of a deep connection, unity and bonding. That intimacy is a sign of our oneness with God and all creatures. The exhilaration of sexual and orgasmic union reflects the creative, intimate, and explosive character of divine energy available to all human beings. That intimacy happens to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples. It is not dependent on procreation. It is dependent on robust sexual connection, trust, love and joy.
Some say the purpose of marriage is procreation. The Book of Common Prayer indicates three purposes of marriage. “The union of husband and wife in heart, body and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy: for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children.”
While same-sex couples cannot have children biologically, they are quite capable of having children by adoption, in vitro fertilization, and foster care. The church allows straight couples to be married who are too old to have children, who are not physically able to have children, or just plain don’t want children. Procreation is not a necessary requirement for marriage. Same-sex couples can pledge each other mutual joy, help and comfort in prosperity and adversity without the expectation of procreation.
I also believe that God enters human history and brings about change in the social order. Saul and David were permitted many wives. Jesus said a man should not divorce his wife. We know now that men could divorce wives but women could not divorce husbands. Jesus proscription of divorce was to protect women and not marriage. Even the idea of faithful, life-long monogamy was a development within the Jewish people of God from a society that permitted polygamy.
We know that slavery in many varied forms was permitted in Jewish and Christian societies. Heroes like Wilberforce in England and the abolitionists in the United States felt called by God to abolish the institution of slavery. I believe God acted in and through these prophets to change existing religious notions, bring freedom to people in bondage and offer them full humanity.
The church once held that the ordination to the priesthood was reserved for men. God acted in and through the church to bring about change and justice so that women are ordained priest and bishop. We know that all Christians do not agree with this change. But the church, her rules, theology and liturgics are always changing and developing.
Cuthbert Simpson’s old book Revelation and Response, indicated God reveals himself in human history and we, God’s people, respond, change and develop, as did the ancient prophets and people of Israel.
Jesus indicated the law was made for man, not man for the law. The sacraments are made for man, not man for the sacraments. The laws and sacraments of the church now say marriage is only for heterosexuals. I believe God reveals to us today a new creation, a new being, a new phenomenon. We live in a time when some same-sex couples want to enter life-long faithful relationships.
Some homosexuals, not all by any means, want to vow to be with each other “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.” They want to make a solemn vow.
The writers of Leviticus didn’t face this. Paul never heard of such a thing. The ancient fathers, the theologians, the reformers, the writers of prayer books and liturgies never faced a situation where same-sex couples came to the church asking for a blessing, a marriage, a wedding ceremony, or a nuptial mass. Homosexuality in the past was seen only as fun for the initiated and perversity and abomination and immorality by the church at large. We are in a new world now. God is revealing new things through our homosexual brothers and sisters. They are not going away. They will always be with us no badly we treat them.
God’s law on social custom is not immutable. It has always changed and will continue to do so. The sacrament of marriage is nowhere near the doctrine of the Incarnation, the Trinity and Eucharist in power and strength. Even in those we know there is a wide variety of interpretation about those great statements of belief. The doctrine of Christian marriage must be expanded to include the marriage of same-sex persons if it is their desire to seek the blessing of God through the church.
Neither the church nor the sacrament of marriage need protection. They are large enough in heart and compassion to expand even further to include the new being of homosexual love and marriage.
© December 1996
Robert Warren Cromey
Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church
1668 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
415-775-1117; fax 415-824-6058