Minister grateful for church court
overturning rebuke of same-sex weddings

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in Culture, News

Published on April 30, 2008 with No Comments

By Julia Cheever

April 30, 2008

A retired Presbyterian minister from San Rafael said Tuesday she is “so grateful” the highest court of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. overturned a lower court’s rebuke of her performance of same-sex weddings.

But the Rev. Jane Spahr, 65, said she felt “deep concern” that the court, known as the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, didn’t sanction same-sex marriages.

“I want the church to be as welcoming as possible,” Spahr said.

The commission, at the Presbyterian Church’s headquarters in Louisville, Ky., issued the ruling Monday in a disciplinary proceeding initiated against Spahr for officiating at two lesbian weddings in Rochester, N.Y., in 2004 and Jenner in 2005.

The judicial panel said Spahr couldn’t be rebuked because the church’s constitution doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages and the two lesbian ceremonies therefore did not celebrate marriages.

Instead, the panel said, the ceremonies blessed same-sex unions, which the 2.3 million member church has allowed since 1991.

The commission asserted that the church constitution requires marriage to be between a man and a woman and does not recognize gay and lesbian unions as marriages.

The panel wrote, “A same-sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage.”

Stephen Taber, a lawyer for a presbytery committee that initiated the disciplinary proceedings, said the ruling provides “a flat-out determination” that the church constitution does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Taber said, “We now have a decision that constitutes an authoritative interpretation” of the church constitution.

The attorney said the commission’s reversal of the rebuke was “a semantic decision based on terminology and not on substance.”

But he said that while the prosecution committee was concerned about an alleged violation of church rules, “as a practical matter, nobody is out to ‘get’ Janie Spahr.”

Taber said, “A number of us have a great deal of admiration for her. She is a wonderful person and has conducted a wonderful ministry.”

The proceedings were initiated by a committee of the local Presbytery of the Redwoods, which covers northern coastal California from Marin County to the Oregon border. A presbytery commission cleared her of misconduct, but a regional synod reversed that finding and ordered a rebuke.

Spahr then appealed to the general assembly commission.

Spahr was affiliated with anationwide Presbyterian ministry group called That All May Freely Serve, which ministers primarily to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

She said although she retired in August, she plans to continue counseling both homosexual and heterosexual couples and officiate at their weddings.

“I will continue to honor my calling to perform marriages for all couples who love one another and are committed to one another,” Spahr said.

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overturning rebuke of same-sex weddings
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