Presbyterian Church says minister didn't violate rules |
by presiding over same-sex 'marriages'
Matthai Kuruvila, Chronicle Religion Writer
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
(04-29) 18:30 PDT -- A San Rafael minister who presided over several same-sex ceremonies didn't violate Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) rules, because same-sex "marriages" don't exist in the church, a church court ruled Tuesday.
At the same time, the Permanent Judicial Council's ruling affirmed the right of same-sex couples to have "unions," a ceremony that would theoretically have a distinct liturgy.
The ambivalent ruling - affirming the rights of gays and lesbians to have their relationships sanctioned by the church but not considering them equal to those of heterosexual couples - is likely to disappoint both sides in the debate.
But some viewed the ruling as revealing the contradictory sentiments within the ongoing struggle over how to view committed relationships among same-sex couples.
"It really demonstrates the tensions at large in society as a whole and in the church itself," said Sara Taylor, an attorney representing the Rev. Jane Spahr.
The role of same-gender unions may be the single most divisive issue in Christianity today, sometimes with global repercussions. Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians in the United States have found themselves in bitter fights over the issue.
Offering neither a complete rebuke nor rejoicing in same-sex relationships, the 11-page Presbyterian court ruling attempted to lay out a roadmap for what types of unions it would uphold or reject. And much of the issue seems to revolve around how clergy spoke about such same-sex rites.
Presbyterian legislation defines marriage as "a civil contract between a woman and a man." But there is dispute as to whether that phrase automatically excludes gays and lesbians.
Four attempts to specifically prohibit same-sex unions by the General Assembly, the larger church's legislative gathering, have failed.
But given existing definition, the court ruled that clergy responsibilities are clear.
Clergy "who are authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply or represent that a same-sex ceremony is a marriage ... A same sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage."
Spahr said she had conducted "hundreds" of same-sex unions since 1974. She said that in recent years gays and lesbians have wanted "marriages" specifically because they saw the term as a measure of equality.
Over the past five years, Spahr said she'd presided over at least 14 such ceremonies.
She called the court's ruling, which removed a censure against her, a "mixed" ruling.
"To hear once again that they are not equal, but we are separate and unequal, gives me great pause," she said.
Spahr said that she counsels and treats gay and lesbian couples the same as she does heterosexual couples. Despite the court's injunction against marriage, Spahr said she would continue to do her ministry. She is currently counseling six couples who hope to get married in the next year. Three of them are same-sex couples.
Original article: SF Gate
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