New Haven’s St. Thomas Episcopal Church will not perform any marriage ceremonies in order to voice their support of gay marriage, the church announced late last week.
In the wake of the decision, the church, led by Fr. Michael Ray, has received national media attention, but, following an administrative meeting Monday night, officials at St. Thomas have declined to comment further on the church’s new policy. The vestry voted 10-1 in favor of placing a moratorium on all marriages in response to the Episcopal Church’s existing ban on gay marriages, the New Haven Register reported Sunday.
In August 2003, the Episcopal Church USA consecrated its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, creating a schism in the Anglican Church worldwide. Yale Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge said the Episcopal Church’s actions thus far has put St. Thomas in a challenging position.
“That’s a very difficult tradition to be in,” Attridge said. “They are obviously struggling with this issue, and it must be causing some distress for members caught in the middle of this debate.”
Karin Hamilton, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Episcopal Diocese, said they received no advance knowledge of St. Thomas’ plans and the decision was largely the church’s own. The church’s decision was not inconsistent with any rules of the Diocese, she said.
“They were making a statement by their actions, but no priest is required to conduct marriages,” Hamilton said. “They were not breaking any canonical laws.”
Though the decision to ban all marriages will send a clear message, University Chaplain Frederick Streets said he does not think it will change the position of any other churches.
“Whatever positions they have, this will only reinforce it,” Streets said. “It might stimulate a sort of expression on the part of congregations on both sides of the issue, but it’s not going to change a congregation one way or the other.”
Streets emphasized that churches affiliated with Yale have an existing policy of nondiscrimination. He said the Church of Christ at Yale, where he serves as senior pastor, has been an open congregation since the 1980s.
Justin Ross ’07, the co-coordinator of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative at Yale, said he thinks the approach is convoluted.
“Ideally, the goal is to open up marriage, so it’s kind of a strange message,” Ross said. “But it does force the heterosexual members to react and think more about the issues from the perspective of homosexual people.”
By banning straight marriages, Streets said some straight parishioners may feel they are being attacked.
“It has the potential of energizing couples who are for gay marriage,” Streets said. “But other straight couples may feel like they’re being discriminated against even though they’re supportive of gay marriage.”
While acknowledging that heterosexual couples may feel ostracized, Ross said that other churches have sometimes alienated members in both accepting and restricting gay marriage.
“It’s definitely a balancing act,” Ross said. “From a progressive standpoint, you never want to alienate any members of the community.”