Wednesday, April 30, 2008

U.S. Presbyterian cleric cleared in gay marriage flap | U.S. | Reuters

U.S. Presbyterian cleric cleared in gay marriage flap | U.S. | Reuters

By Michael Conlon, Religion Writer

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The highest court of the U.S. Presbyterian Church has lifted a censure placed on a retired minister for presiding over two same-sex unions, the church announced on Tuesday.

The ruling said the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr, an activist for gay and lesbian causes who lives in San Rafael, California, performed "ceremonies" and not actual marriages in two instances in 2004 and 2005. Both cases involved lesbian couples.

"A same-sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage" under the laws of the 2.3 million member church, said the ruling from the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church


Spahr had been found guilty of performing gay marriages and rebuked "for doing that which by definition cannot be done," the panel said.

"One cannot characterize same sex ceremonies as marriages for the purpose of disciplining a minister ... and at the same time declare that such ceremonies are not marriages for legal or ecclesiastical purposes," it said.

Spahr served a "validated ministry charged with caring for members of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender community and reported regularly to her presbytery about the same sex unions and 'weddings' she performed," the commission added. "These services were not described as marriages in her reports ..."

Spahr, 65, in 1992 became the first openly lesbian Presbyterian minister to be appointed a local church pastor, and she went on to preside over hundreds of gay unions.

A local governing body overseeing her ministry initially said she did not commit an offense, but in August, 2007, a regional judicial group reversed that and censured her.

Her appeal to the top commission of the Kentucky-based church resulted in Tuesday's final ruling.

The church is the largest Presbyterian group in the United States. A number of other churches are struggling with the role of gays and how to treat same-sex unions.

The ruling said the church is open to all and "while drawing a distinction between sexual orientation and sexual practice, and maintaining behavior standards for ordained office that further limit sexual practice, the church has attempted to minister to the (gay) community through the efforts of ministers like Spahr.

"The tension the church has created between sexual orientation and sexual practice has led to turmoil and dissension that will likely continue for some time," it added.

(Reporting by Michael Conlon; editing by Andrew Stern

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