Dear members of the Diocese of Newark,
A panel of the State Supreme Court has just ruled that same-sex marriages can proceed in New Jersey, beginning Monday, October 21. I rejoice that state law now provides the opportunity for all couples to receive the full benefits of marriage. I join my prayers of thanksgiving with those many couples who are – at this moment, applying for marriage licenses. Many of our diocesan clergy are preparing to officiate at celebrations. I have been in conversation with one priest whose congregation is planning a group wedding ceremony – and how I as bishop might participate.
As we live into this new reality, I refer to guidelines that I issued shortly after the 2012 General Convention, when liturgies were approved for provisional use.
Since February 2007, when the state of New Jersey authorized civil unions, I have given verbal support for clergy to bless civil unions. I now add my support for clergy to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, with the following guidelines:
- I expect that clergy will provide the same pastoral care and counseling to same-sex couples leading up to the ceremony that they would provide heterosexual couples.
- I expect that clergy will inform the leadership of the congregation that the blessing of same-sex marriages is to be a part of the ministry of the congregation; and to seek their support. A priest needs to pronounce the blessing; a deacon may participate.
- I would ask clergy to use the common liturgy for same-sex blessings approved at the 2012 General Convention (available here).
- I would encourage clergy to record the ceremony in the Parish Register.
- I request that in the case of a new lifelong union that follows either a divorce or the end of a previous lifelong union, clergy seek permission from the bishop’s office to bless the marriage (which is the canonical policy for second marriages).
I am grateful for this forward step in our civic life. I continue to pray for the movement toward full marriage equality in this country, and for the day when we will not need to make distinctions – pastorally, liturgically or legally, between two people who pledge lifelong fidelity to each other.
+Mark M. Beckwith
Bishop of Newark