Gay blessings in works
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: January 19, 2013
St. John’s Episcopal Church leaders have applied to the head of the state diocese to perform blessings for gay couples that want to get married.
Father Ken Asel said Friday that he’s waiting on a response from Bishop John Smylie, who oversees the Wyoming diocese. He expects an answer early next month.
Asel made the announcement Friday in a newsletter that was emailed to church members.
“This is not the relaxing of values,” he said Friday in a telephone interview. “This is an affirmation of values, the affirmation that everyone is blessed by God.”
If approved by Bishop Smylie, St. John’s would perform only blessings for same-sex couples that wish to get married. Gay couples would not be married as part of the full sacrament of matrimony, Asel said.
In the newsletter, he characterized the rite as “a blessing and recognition of an already established relationship.”
“We’re not prepared to say the blessing of two same-gender people is the same thing as the sacrament of marriage be-tween two people of the opposite gender, but it may be,” Asel said.
The decision to perform these blessings has been building since the summer, when members of the Episcopal church from throughout the United States and other countries met to discuss church policy. During the convention, church leaders passed a resolution that allowed individual congregations to perform blessings for same-sex couples, so long as the head of the diocese in question signed off on it.
St. John’s leadership already approved the blessings on a 6-2 vote. Asel had the final say about whether to send a request to Bishop Smylie.
“I do not take this step lightly, but pastorally,” Asel said in the newsletter. “While aware of the differences of opinion on this matter, this is a pastoral step for the members of our family, and there is nothing I would not do for the spiritual growth and compassionate care of you all.”
Mark Houser, coordinator for Jackson Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said he was excited to hear about the prospect of blessings for gay couples. Such a move could help build momentum for initiatives in the state Legislature and spark a discussion in the community.
“I think members of the sexual minority will feel more embraced by this kind of statement from the religious community,” he said. “I think it will create a more welcoming climate in Jackson.”
If approved, all of St. John’s priests will be allowed to perform the blessings. Asel, however, will review all applications and will have the final say in turning down any requests.
The blessings will be offered to active members of the church only. Anyone who wants to join the church will have to wait at least six months after joining the congregation.
While Asel said he sees this as an important step, he said the church’s Jackson Hole congregation has already had a long discussion about whether to move in this direction. More important is the message that this step sends to gay couples, Asel said.
“Even if it’s something we don’t know very much about, if we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the side of love and not on the side of exclusion,” he said.
It’s also an important step for religious groups to talk about sexuality, Asel said. Too often the issue is pushed away and not addressed, he said.
“Christianity has a sex problem in the sense that human sexuality has been a mystery and a little bit uncomfortable in our society,” he said.
The announcement comes less than a week after a state legislator filed bills that would pave the way for gay couples to form civil unions or possibly get married within Wyoming.
Jackson Republican Reps. Keith Gingery and Ruth Ann Petroff have both come out in support of allowing gay marriage in the state.
On Friday, Gov. Matt Mead said the issue should be put on a ballot so that Wyoming citizens could have a say.
Mead said he personally does not believe in gay marriage.
“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said during a Wyoming Press Association lunch in Cheyenne.
— Brielle Schaeffer contributed to this story.