Chicago Diocese publishes guidelines, rite for Same-Sex Unions

The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago has published its Guidelines for the Solemnization of Holy Union, effective June 1 of this year. The document is available via Scribd here. This is in light of the 2009 General Convention resolution (C056) recognizing “the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality,” and permitting a “generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church.”

In his introductory theological reflection to the Guidelines, The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago, asserts that

the faithful, loving, and lifelong union of two persons of the same sex is capable of signifying the never failing love of God in Christ for the church and the world. Such unions can be sources and signs of grace, both for the couple and for the wider community. It is appropriate therefore that they be surrounded by the prayer of the Christian community. A further conviction is that just as Holy Matrimony is a vocation leading a man and a woman to practice disciplines of holiness, so should the gift of a similar, publicly committed discipline be available to gay and lesbian members of the church. Both marriage and faithful unions can be schools of holiness, ways of ordering our lives so that we might learn to be more faithful servants of Christ.

Perhaps of greatest interest to readers of this blog will be the Q & A section of the document, particularly (but not exclusively) the third question-and-answer, addressing the sacramentality of a same-sex union, and the rite included in the document. Speaking personally, and apart from the contentious issues that surround the topic of same-sex union generally, I find the arrangement of the elements of the rite — most notably the location of the intercessions in relation to the Consent or “vows” — to be most satisfactory. This rite has a structural coherence with the other sacramental rites that is heretofore unprecedented in marriage rites generally, and those in the Book of Common Prayer tradition specifically.

Chicago is not the first diocese to authorize such guidelines and rite; nor will it be the last. The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of The Episcopal Church maintains a blog documenting “Resources for Same-Gender Blessings” and opportunities to gather information as it studies the liturgical and theological questions surrounding such rites, working toward a uniform proposal for the whole church.

For those that are dying to know where I stand. . . I think a single, uniform rite with some variables for use in both traditional heterosexual marriages and same-sex unions will best serve The Episcopal Church: the entire marriage rite needs to be overhauled to express the reality of marriage and holy union as it is actually experienced as a sacrament in the real lives of real couples and families today.


47 responses to “Chicago Diocese publishes guidelines, rite for Same-Sex Unions”

  1. John Hillas Avatar
    John Hillas

    Based on scholarship that I’ve read, there is much historical documentation to support that the Churches of both Eastern and Western Christendom had approved rites and usages for blessing of same-sex unions that endured for a quite a long time. The Sacramental-nature of marriage wasn’t formally defined until fairly late in Church’s history. And it’s still not even clear who confers the sacrament upon whom. In the West it is the spouses; in the East it is the priest. Someone else may be able to give a better reference. However, those that are unwilling to step outside of themselves in empathy will never be able to accept or understand what is so faulty about the modern “one-man-one-woman” notion of natural human love. (cf., Boswell, J. [1994] Same-sex unions in premodern Europe.)

  2. Fr. Rob Johansen Avatar


    The supposed historical case for the early church recognizing or blessing same-sex unions, particularly that advanced by Boswell, has long since been rebutted.

    See the review of Boswell by the eminent patrologist Robin Darlin Young (at Catholic University when she wrote the review, now at Notre Dame):

    Boswell’s work was an egregious example of eisegesis, that is, reading into ancient texts what one wants to see today.

  3. John Hillas Avatar
    John Hillas

    Fr Rob:

    I suppose that reading into historical texts with true objectivity is quite difficult. Nevertheless, the Church for a long time tolerated the multiple “marriages” and concubines of powerful men throughout history. What of all those arranged marriages that were so common in the past? The values inherent to a holy union have changed over time. Perhaps the rebuttal that you cite comes with its own set of preconceptions and skewed lenses. Again, sex always seems to be the conservatives’ foremost obsession. Was love between husband and wife even necessary in times past? I didn’t find her rebuttal of any of Boswell’s points to be any more conclusive than his.

    1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      Yes. And that includes many holders of the office of Bishop of Rome. Leo XIII is only the most recent holder to have fathered a child. If he did, he’s in a long line of such eminences, Gregory XIII, Pius IV, Paul III, Clement VII, Alexander VI, Innocent VIII etc.

      During the first milenium, when bishops married, the picture was different. We have a record of Leo the Great saying that he was entrusting his beloved son with the responsibility of delivering a document.

      Eisegesis is alive and well.

      1. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

        Leo XIII is only the most recent holder to have fathered a child. If he did,

        “If he did”? If it’s in doubt you shouldn’t be smearing him by writing “Leo XIII is only the most recent holder to have fathered a child.” Do you have a citation?

      2. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        Fathering a child is not a crime. The lady in question wasn’t a minor.

        I believe the said Belgian lady was a member of the nobility or the diplomatic set and that the offspring used to show up in Rome periodically, much to the annoyance of many.

        What kind of a citation are you looking for this time? A birth cert?

      3. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        Gerald, a priest in a comment on NCR made claims about cardinals commissioning galeros or saturnos or whatever. Rita took exception to this claim being made without evidence or proof. You’ve just said that “Leo XIII … fathered a child.” It seems reasonable to ask for a source, some way to verify the claim.

        And I too am curious why right after saying he fathered a child, you add “If he did…” Had you meant “Leo XIII is only the most recent holder to have been said to have fathered a child”? Who (apart from yourself) says this?

      4. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        Well, a birth year, sex and names might be helpful to start with.

      5. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

        What kind of a citation are you looking for this time?

        Scholarly historical sources.

      6. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        ‘If he did,’ is an Irish idiom. Ask any of your Irish friends about its precise usage.

        I believe the offspring was male and that he was born between 1843 and 1846. I can’t give you a name.

        But what’s all the fuss about? Paternity isn’t a crime, unlike some of the other scandals we have at present. In fact, in some cultures, it’s a great accolade to have fathered a child.

        I listed seven Bishops of Rome. One of them had 9 known children by 3 women. Their offspring are well-document. It’s not so incredible, is it?

        Then of course, there are those of the other persuasion, Paul II, who died in, let’s be charitable, interesting circumstances, Sixtus IV, he of the Sistine chapel fame, and Julius III. The last mentioned was so infatuated by a 15-year-old monkey tamer that he made him a cardinal and brought him home to share his bed. And he turned out to be quite a headache for successive pontiffs. And that, during the glorious Council of Trent, with its sublime theology of priesthood and episcopacy.

      7. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

        But what’s all the fuss about? Paternity isn’t a crime, unlike some of the other scandals we have at present. In fact, in some cultures, it’s a great accolade to have fathered a child.

        In the Catholic moral culture it’s still a grave sin to have sex outside of marriage and Leo XIII wasn’t married. So you’re accusing Pope Leo XIII of a grave sin. If you don’t actually have credible evidence for this accusation, you should retract it.

      8. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        I’m afraid you’re misrepresenting the Catholic moral tradition. You don’t have access to Leo XIII’s conscience on the day/night, so how can you say it’s a ‘grave sin’? His conscience may have been perfectly at peace.

      9. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

        I’m afraid you’re misrepresenting the Catholic moral tradition. You don’t have access to Leo XIII’s conscience on the day/night, so how can you say it’s a ‘grave sin’? His conscience may have been perfectly at peace.

        This is complete nonsense. The Catholic moral tradition has a well developed way of talking about this. Without access to his conscience, we can still know that fornication is always an objectively grave sin, more specifically a grave material sin. It may not be a mortal sin if it is not a grave formal sin or because of lack of imputability for some other reason (because of lack of capacity, coercion, etc.), but it will still regardless be a grave material sin. Gravity refers to matter.

      10. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        Well, so what you are saying it Leo XIII is rumored to have fathered a son while he was nuncio to Belgium. That’s just plain old gossip, not anything factual.

      11. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        But matter, as I’m sure you’re aware, S.H.,is only one issue. There are a number of others. There is the issue of knowledge. He may not have assented to the line you are taking. So for, him he didn’t know that action as sinful. And there is the matter of consent. He may have been intoxicated.

        Oh, if all of the moral life were as simple, or as black and white as your take on moral reasoning!

        Your version of ‘the Catholic moral tradition’ is a very narrow view of what that tradition is. You used the expression before in a casuistic attempt to justify silence as a moral good. That line of reasoning, as I pointed out then, was precisely the kind of moral bunkum which was used by church leaders, to justify to themselves,their collusion in the cover-up of the abuse of children.

  4. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    I have Boswell’s book but have not yet read it. I suppose he is doing a lot of eisegesis. The Church always treasured same-sex spiritual friendship (as well as other-sex) and might have made more of this in recent times as it promotes its ideals of chastity. Boswell could have made a subtler and more persuasive appeal to this tradition. Today Christians, at least in the other churches, are doing something new, which is not covered by precedents from the past. That is the sort of leap that has often been made in scriptural and church tradition.

  5. John Molnar Avatar
    John Molnar

    The term “same sex union” at higher levels of the evolutionary scale is biological nonsense. As theology, it is condemned by the Church as disordered behavior. Anything else said on the subject IMHO is just words, words, words….

    1. Chris Grady Avatar
      Chris Grady

      “just words, words, words….”

      Not the only thing it shares, as it happens, with Vox Clara.

    2. G. Michael McGuire Avatar
      G. Michael McGuire

      All such “disordered affections” will disappear after one good solid Lent with the Pell-Moroney-Ward remake of Lenten Preface II. In fact, to quote that Preface: “deal with” it!

    3. Joe O'Leary Avatar
      Joe O’Leary

      The union of two hearts or two souls in love is valued in our tradition. That the body might add something to this is also recognized, for instance in Augustine’s reference to chaste caresses between friends.

      Just as marriage is not just a license for sexual congress so to focus on such congress as the essence of gay unions is also misleading.

      1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        That tendency to focus on the sexual side is probably due to the unlovely term ‘homosexual.’ Same gender sounds better.

  6. Chris Grady Avatar
    Chris Grady

    Gerard Flynn :
    What kind of a citation are you looking for this time? A birth cert?

    I hear one can get them pretty easily in Hawaii.

  7. F C Bauerschmidt Avatar
    F C Bauerschmidt

    Chris and Michael, you really need to expand the scope of your interests. Believe it or not, not everything is about Vox Clara.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur


      I think even Fritz can figure out which regular commenter is probably posing briefly under that moniker….

    2. Chris Grady Avatar
      Chris Grady

      Fritz, the scope of my interests is pretty wide – so wide in fact that I’ve neither time nor inclination to mind your business.

      You’re right that “not everything is about Vox Clara” but a lot is, and similarly, not everything is about this blog, or your impressions of my interests.

      It’s Saturday. Shouldn’t you be preparing a homily, or taking Communion to the sick, or doing whatever else deacons are allowed to do?

      1. F C Bauerschmidt Avatar
        F C Bauerschmidt

        I’ve neither time nor inclination to mind your business.

        Shouldn’t you be preparing a homily, or taking Communion to the sick, or doing whatever else deacons are allowed to do?

        Wow. You found both the time and the inclination in the time it took to begin and end a post.

        And, since you asked (not that I think you’re really interested). . .

      2. Cody C.  Unterseher Avatar

        Fritz, thanks for the link — a truly great homily, one I wish I could hear being preached!

      3. Jonathan Day Avatar
        Jonathan Day

        Great homily, Fritz, thank you.

  8. Cody C.  Unterseher Avatar

    So we’ve heard commentary on Boswell’s interesting but ultimately overreaching work on same-sex relationships in the first millennium, a debate on Papal paternity issues and the possibility of papal progeny from Leo XIII — which claim I suspect he would have simply declared “absolutely null and utterly void.” (Tongue in cheek, of course). We’ve had one comment that might have stirred some relevant discussion, though it ultimately was designed to set up Roman Catholic teaching authority over against the scientific community as well as the internal affairs of other churches; alas, that comment quickly spun into potshots at Vox Clara, with some good-natured (I hope!) ribbing along the way.

    I am curious if anyone has bothered to read the rite that Chicago has published and what, from a liturgiological perspective, they think of its structure, content, quality of language, etc., etc., etc. — you know, the stuff that we talk about here, when we’re not nit-picking history and time management issues with one another.

    1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      Thank you, Fritz! Inspiring.

    2. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

      Yep, I read it, but I don’t have much to say about it.

    3. Dylan Bahrkuhr Avatar
      Dylan Bahrkuhr


      As a former Anglican who is quite familiar with the controversy all the way back to 2004, when I started paying attention (and, through reading, familiar with the broader context of the so-called “Anglican Wars” (as the controversies are wont to be called at the “Get Religion” blog)), I read through the document with great interest.

      To be honest, I found the theological reflection by the leader of the Episcopal diocese to be the most in-depth that I have encountered from the progressive/revisionist side.

      On the other hand, I found the liturgy itself — at least where there are attempts at new compositions — to be absolutely horrible. I am not speaking here of my disagreement with the theology it represents (obviously, my swimming of the Tiber should serve as apt evidence of my position on matters relating to same-sex “holy unions”). Rather, the compositions themselves reminded me of pink-flavored cotton candy: fluffy, overly sweet, and not particularly substantive.

      I think the document was at its best were attempts were made — usually as “option 2” — to adapt the language of the Book of Common Prayer (both 1662 and 1979 versions).

      I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the quality of the document, particularly the liturgical part.

      1. Cody C.  Unterseher Avatar

        Of the overall quality of the document, I agree that the introduction is among the most consistent and coherent theological statements taking a positive view of same-sex relations. The Q & A is useful, but I think the fuzzy-logic of sacramental theology (trying to honor two different reckonings of sacrament) among Episcopalians undermines its effectiveness.

        Of the rite itself, I was pleased with the responsory catena at the beginning of the rite, though it could be more elevated in tone. The proposed Collect reminded me of ICEL-werke 1970s-style. (Some of the alternate Collects in the appendix are far superior.) The use of a Presentation of the Couple I personally did not care for: it reinforces something that, in my humble opinion, needs to disappear from marriage rites generally. As I mentioned in the post, I find the placement of the litany or intercessions before the vows to be most satisfactory. I have reservations about the first vow-pattern theologically, and I agree that the second is little more than an adaptation, though not one I find to be problematic. The blessing of the couple/nuptial blessing is theologically, rhetorically and structurally problematic. Overall, the prayer is theologically vague and platitudinous. It is unclear if the entire prayer is addressed to God the Father, or if each of the first three paragraphs is addressed to a different person. Also, the third paragraph redoubles the epiclesis in the fourth, whereas the first two paragraphs do not include a petition.

        The proposed proper preface lacks any expansion on the theological themes of the rite; its brevity is a real downfall.

  9. Stephen Manning Avatar
    Stephen Manning

    I doubled. Skip to following.

    1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      I like the way your homily is laid out like poetry. Doing justice to the oral quality of it, I imagine. There’s a lesson there for preachers. I think a good homily is more like poetry and prose. Keep it up!

  10. Stephen Manning Avatar
    Stephen Manning

    I hope it will be OK to make a comment about the same-sex unions liturgy rather than the erotic doings and undoings of prelates in Western history.

    I understand the Catholic position on homosexuality. Although I do not find it personally convincing, I also conclude that for the Roman Church to say otherwise would utterly unravel its whole teaching on sexual morality. So I am not going to argue there.

    The Episcopal Church, on the other hand, has shown itself to be very pliable and responsive to changes in mainstream liberal Western culture: ordained females, ordained, even episcopal gays, etc. And so a Holy Union liturgy is not surprising.

    I am not supportive, however. Not because I have a personal judgement against homosexuality per se, but because I think the drive for gay marriage, while societally and legally understandable (that is, it gives approved social status and legal benefits), is “archetypally” wrong-headed. That is, it does not do justice to the specificity of male/male and of female/female dyads. (And homogenizing them all into one format with changes in the gender references erases the specific sacramentality of the male/female dyad, as well.)

    Following the agenda of the gay culture, this liturgy subsumes two male lovers or two female lovers into a structure that has, for its entire immemorial history, assumed a male and a female (at least one of each!). To me, the specific sacramentality of a male/male and a female/female dyad is thus left ignored, unexplored, unsignified. It puts these two different relationships together as well as, frankly, hiding them under a heterosexual bushel basket. Gay marriage, to me, is homosexual love in straight drag.

    Jack Donovan & Nathan Miller have written “Blood Brotherhood and Other Rites of Male Alliance”, a historical and cross-cultural survey of how men ritualize intimate bonds with each other (most of which are not sexual). These structures are indigenously male. To me, a better path.

    1. BRIGID M RAUCH Avatar

      An interesting take on the subject – food for thought.

  11. Stephen Manning Avatar
    Stephen Manning

    And since I am on the topic, although I know proponents would never accept this –equality must trump all these days–, it would be intriguing to explore ritualizing the two different varieties of same-sex union not as a sacrament but as a sacramental. (This is a category that may have small purchase in an Anglican tradition, however.) To think about these unions as more like monastic vows, which are sacramentals but not sacraments. That might allow more respect for the unique qualities of love between two men or two women rather than that frankly annoyingly neutered Episcopal liturgical habit of speaking of “these persons.”
    Whatever happened to gendered incarnation?

    (Unless the un or semi conscious agenda is to reduce maleness and femaleness to mere categories of socially constructed oppression, a la feminism.)

    And it would leave the sacrament of marriage in its natural archetypal role. Like it or not, the marriage of male and female has a central role and function and meaning in human history that vastly outweighs same-sex unions. Hey, if we’re supposed to be in favor of “diversity”, why try to homogenize these diverse forms of dyadic love?

    I realize that for Rome, this horse will never leave the barn and that for ECUSA, the equine creature is long out of it, but I sometimes like to read myself write.

    1. BRIGID M RAUCH Avatar

      Archetype, shmarchetype, the most important union is the one I’m in! I like the idea of having specific ceremonies, but not the notion that a same sex union only gets the runner-up certificate.

  12. Earle Luscombe Avatar
    Earle Luscombe

    Stephen, If I’m reading you correctly, the church would bless the union of a same sex couple, but go no further, and would use a slightly different rite depending on the gender of the couple. It would be up to the civil authority to legalize the relationship. Is this what you’re saying?

  13. Chris Grady Avatar
    Chris Grady

    F C Bauerschmidt :

    (not that I think you’re really interested). . .

    You’ve never been so right!

    1. F C Bauerschmidt Avatar
      F C Bauerschmidt

      Maybe next time I can work in a reference to Vox Clara.

  14. Stephen Manning Avatar
    Stephen Manning

    “Is this what you’re saying?”

    Pretty much. But as I also say, –and Brigid Rauch’s reaction exemplifies it well–, the issue, and the rite, have been driven by the secular agenda of marriage equality so it’s too late for that. I am just turning my symbolic wheels here.

    I will add this, however. Were I ever in the position to want to have a full-on relationship with another man consecrated by the Church, an adapted version of a (heterosexual) wedding would not be appealing. After all, weddings are about the bride…and where would she be?

    If you want to talk heterosexism and “runner-up” status, then assimilating two men, two males, into the archetypal schmarchetypal straight (!) jacket of husband/wife matrimony as a way of showing that same-sex love is as good as hetero love is a kind of culturally superior condescension. I’d rather have seen an exploration of the sacramental meaning of two men, not two sexless “persons”, making a bond with each other. Same for two women. Bonds that are unique, not reducible to other kinds, and are “good enough” to stand on their own without being forced, for the sake of public status and group ego (legal benefits aside), to stand in the shadow of an institution not designed made for them. It is a lost opportunity, to homogenize same-sex love with husband-wife love.

    I used monastic vows as an analog because, while not one of the seven sacraments, they are certainly held in very high esteem in traditional Christianity. In some, even higher than marriage.

    1. Joe O'Leary Avatar
      Joe O’Leary

      A bond between two men or (to a less developed extent) between two women already has a deep archetypal tradition in the notion of Friendship as developed by Greek and Roman thinkers and by the Fathers of the Church. This, rather than the archetypes of marriage, is what we should build on.

    2. Mary Coogan Avatar
      Mary Coogan

      Like Cecilia, I don’t see it. I’m no church historian, but as I understand it, the Book of Common Prayer’s marriage rite (a sacramental rite, not a gospel sacrament, in the consensus about Art. 25 of the 39 Articles), has given identical vows for husband and wife since its first ECUSA American edition. This American edition was published shortly after the US Constitution, with some of the same people having had a hand in drafting both documents. So it seems that the ECUSA has generally promoted the value of equality over any special sense of male or female roles in relationships. For the same reason, I think Stephen’s analogy with monastic vows is completely off course. Monks promise obedience to their superiors, simply “obedience in all good” in one example. This state of life seems significantly different from that of matrimony, in which spouses enter into a covenant of unity and mutual support and comfort. Surely same-sex marriage is more like hetero-marriage than it’s like the relationships of monks (or nuns)?

      Stephen writes, “The Episcopal Church, on the other hand, has shown itself to be very pliable and responsive to changes in mainstream liberal Western culture: ordained females, ordained, even episcopal gays, etc. And so a Holy Union liturgy is not surprising.” Yes, but this focus on equal participation (“All the sacraments/ rites for all the faithful”) is to be found in the Acts of the Apostles as well as in “mainstream liberal Western culture,” so let’s be cautious about dismissing it as an ephemeral mainstream “change.”

      1. Stephen Manning Avatar
        Stephen Manning

        My use of monastic vows was not about their content…although now that I think of it, the Benedictine vows of stability and conversion are applicable…not about poverty, etc. but to show that there are sacred rites of bonding and commitment, ones which establish people in a consecrated state of life, held in very high esteem in Catholic Christianity East and West, that are not modeled on matrimony.

        As for the egalitarian drive, I judge it to be quite specific to rather recent Western liberalism and there we will disagree.

  15. Cecelia Flitwick Avatar

    Some years ago I was in a conversation with a liturgist friend while he was involved in helping two women friends of ours plan for their wedding. Curious about the differences in dynamics between this and the hundreds of “traditional” weddings we had worked with, I asked him, “So…what’s it like?”

    He got a pained look on his face, and said two words: “Two brides.” That was it.

    I’m thinking about this whole “different rite for the different dynamics of same sex vs different sex unions” concept, and honestly I don’t see it. The Wedding Rite (I am speaking about the Roman Rite, not the Episcopalian) as it stands is pretty generally applicable, and very little of it seems to specifically address the male-female dynamic–the “accept children” part of the questioning, and the Nuptial Blessing are all I can think of. Most of the specifically-gendered aspects of weddings we are used to seeing (including and especially the “all about the bride” dynamic) are cultural overlays to the actual rite, aren’t they?

    And come to think of it, when I’ve been at weddings for older, past-childbearing-age couples, the “accept children” portion has invariably been omitted (and/or altered for those weddings when the couple’s first two children were the flower girl and ring bearer–“will you continue to accept children lovingly from God?”) by the presider, and I haven’t heard an un-nuanced Nuptial Blessing in years. As gender roles in male-female marriages are shifting, the rites will need to (and do, in many places, regardless of what the books say) shift along with them. I would see this just as another shift.

    Not that I expect the question to be anything more than an academic one for the foreseeable future…

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