The Episcopalian Church & LGBTQ Rights

The Episcopalian Church (of the Anglican communion) says ‘yes’ to same-sex marriage. What does this mean for LGBTQ rights? We take a look…

Episcopalian Church of the Anglican Communion – A History

Formally organised in Philadelphia in 1789 as the successor of the Church of England in the American colonies, the Episcopalian Church was a way to carry on the spiritual legacy of Protestantism after political ties to England had been cut off. The Church was one of the only ones that avoided schism in Civil War and, in the years following the war, grew from 160,000 communicants in 1866 to 720,000 in 1900.

Like many religious organisations, this Church is not without a history of homophobic rhetoric. In October 1962, for example, homosexuality (along with alcoholism) was decreed as a ’standard weakness’ by the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church. In 1964, New York State’s decision to decriminalise homosexuality was met with approval from the Episcopalians, but was denounced by Roman Catholics, and in 1977 Ellen Barrett became the first lesbian woman to be ordained to the Episcopalian church.

While there have been backslides, including a meeting of Bishops in 1977 who condemned homosexuality as ‘un-biblical’, the Church has been predominantly progressive in terms of gay rights.

A force for change?

In 2015, the Episcopalian Church opened its doors to allow members to marry their same-sex partners. Theruling didn’t represent a radical shift in the Church’s policy on homosexuality but was merely the next step in a journey that began long ago. What does this say about religious attitudes towards LGBTQ people? For one, it dispels the idea that organised religion is inherently conservative and always fighting the progress of LGBTQ rights. Or does it?

The Episcopalian Church in America has faced overwhelming opposition from their parent organisation, the Anglican Communion. In April earlier this year, the Church of England’s Secretary-General, William Nye, told the American Episcopalian Church that it would face “stringent consequences” if it removed procreation from the article on marriage in the Common Book of Prayer. In fact, the Church faced opposition from the organisation as a whole when it embraced gay marriage in 2015.

But this didn’t make the Church back down. Bishop Michael Curry, at the wedding of HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May, made a powerful speech that drew from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, stating love must be “harnessed like fire” to make the world a better place.

He is right, and although we still have a long way to go before worldwide religious organisations like the Anglican Communion accept equality in marriage, or in some cases even the right for LGBTQ people to coexist, the Episcopalian Church’s decision to allow same-sex marriage shows that religious acceptance of LGBTQ people is no longer merely a grassroots movement; it is an inspiration to other religious organisations and opens the door for more change, not just in the State, but in the Church. If country-wide religious bodies assume a more accepting and open-minded role, thousands of lives could be changed. Here’s hoping. #lovewins.

Image Credits

Image by Beth Crow, Youth Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina and coordinator of Lift Every Voice (CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)


Episcopal Church website, LGBTQ in the Church.
Encyclopedia Britannica, Episcopal Church in the United States of America
Out History, The Episcopal Church and Homosexuality in the U.S.: Timeline · Religion and Homosexuality in the U.S.
The Times, Anglicans threaten split over ‘gay-friendly’ marriage rites, by Kaya Burgess, R.
Pink News, Royal Wedding: Bishop’s church sanctioned by Anglican Communion for embracing same-sex marriage, by Jess Glass, P.

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