From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 15:20:56


                      by Jerry L. Van Marter 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--A measure that would flatly prohibit Presbyterian 
ministers from "participating" in same-sex union ceremonies is dead. 
     As of April 11, the presbyteries' vote on the proposed Amendment E to 
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) constitution is 70 affirmative, 60 
negative, and 26 no action.  Fifteen presbyteries have yet to vote. 
     But because any amendment to the "Book of Order" must be approved by a 
majority of the denomination's 171 presbyteries, the 86 affirmative votes 
needed to adopt the amendment are not possible.  Votes to take no action 
are tantamount to voting "no." 
     Thus, said the Rev. C. Fred Jenkins, director of constitutional 
services in the Office of the General Assembly, the amendment fails even 
though more presbyteries voted "yes" than voted "no."   
     Current denominational policy, adopted by the 1991 General Assembly, 
states that sessions should not allow the use of their churches for 
same-sex union ceremonies if the session determines the ceremony to be the 
same as a marriage ceremony. 
     Likewise, the policy states that "it would not be proper for a 
minister to perform a same-sex ceremony that the minister determines to be 
the same as a marriage ceremony." 
     The proposed amendment would have added a sentence to the "Book of 
Order" (W-4.9001): "Therefore, it is not permitted for ministers to 
participate in the blessing of any same-sex union." 
     The amendment was initiated by Southern New England Presbytery and 
originally stated "Therefore it is inappropriate. ..."  Last year's 
Assembly changed the word "inappropriate" to "not permitted." 
     The pattern of "no" and "no action" votes outnumbering "yes" votes, 
even though the "yes" votes have outpaced the "no" votes, has held steady 
throughout the voting by the presbyteries. 
     An informal Presbyterian News Service survey of some presbyteries has 
revealed the following reasons for "no" votes: 
     * The amendment is redundant, since current policy all but forbids 
ministers from conducting same-sex union ceremonies. 
     * The word "participate" is too vague -- "Does this mean a minister 
can't even be in the same room where a same-sex ceremony is going on?" 
asked a member of Olympia Presbytery during its debate on the amendment. 
     * The amendment intrudes on ministers' discretion in deciding how best 
to counsel and serve parishioners. 
     * The amendment is ill-placed, coming in a section of the "Book of 
Order" that defines marriage as "a civil contract between a woman and a 
     * The amendment is wrong -- there is a place in the church for 
committed relationships between persons of the same sex. 
     The primary reason given by those presbyteries taking "no action" was 
the fact that the denomination is currently engaged in a three-year study 
of human sexuality and that voting on such an amendment now violates the 
spirit of open discussion of the issue. 
     Those voting "yes" argued that the ordination of gay and lesbian 
persons is the core issue of the current study, not same-sex unions. 
      Record of voting on same-sex union blessing amendment 
AFFIRMATIVE (70): Abingdon, Beaver-Butler, Central Florida, 
Charleston-Atlantic, Charlotte, Cherokee, Coastal Carolina, East Tennessee, 
Flint River, Foothills, Greater Atlanta, Hanmi, Holston, Huntingdon, 
Kendall, Kiskiminetas, Lackawanna, Lake Erie, Lehigh, Los Ranchos, Memphis, 
Minnesota Valleys, Mississippi, Missouri Union, Monmouth, Nevada, New 
Covenant, New Harmony, North Alabama, North Central Iowa, Northeast 
Georgia, Noroeste, Northumberland, Olympia, Peace River, Pines, Prospect 
Hill, Providence, Redstone, Riverside, St. Andrew, St. Augustine, Salem, 
San Diego, San Fernando, San Francisco, San Gabriel, San Joaquin, San Juan, 
Santa Barbara, Savannah, Seattle, Shenango, Shenandoah, South Alabama, 
South Dakota, Southeastern Illinois, Southern Kansas, Southern New England, 
Suroeste, Stockton, Tampa Bay, Trinity, Tropical Florida, Upper Ohio 
Valley, Wabash Valley, Washington, West Jersey, Western North Carolina, 
NEGATIVE (60): Alaska, Albany, Arkansas, Boise, Cayuga-Syracuse, Chicago, 
Cimarron, Cincinnati, de Cristo, Donegal, East Iowa, Eastern Oklahoma, 
Eastern Oregon, Elizabeth, Genesee Valley, Geneva, Glacier, Grace, Grand 
Canyon, Great Rivers, Heartland, Hudson River, Indian Nations, James, John 
Calvin, Lake Huron, Long Island, Louisville, Mackinac, Miami, Middle 
Tennessee, Milwaukee, Muskingum Valley, New Brunswick, New Hope, New York 
City, Newark, Northern Kansas, Northern New York, Northern Plains, Northern 
Waters, Ohio Valley, Pacific, Palisades, Palo Duro, Peaks, Redwoods, San 
Jose, Santa Fe, Scioto Valley, Sierra Blanca, South Louisiana, 
Transylvania, Tres Rios, Twin Cities Area, Utah, West Virginia, Western 
Reserve, Winnebago, Yellowstone. 
NO ACTION (26): Baltimore, Blackhawk, Boston, Carlisle, Cascades, Central 
Nebraska, Denver, Eastminster, Florida, Giddings-Lovejoy, Homestead, Lake 
Michigan, Maumee Valley, Mission, Missouri River Valley, National Capital, 
New Castle, Newton, North Puget Sound, Northern New England, Philadelphia, 
Susquehanna Valley, Utica, Western Kentucky, Whitewater Valley, Wyoming. 
STILL TO VOTE (15): Central Washington, Dakota, Des Moines, Detroit, 
Eastern Virginia, Inland Northwest, John Knox, Midwest Hanmi, Pittsburgh, 
Plains and Peaks, Pueblo, Sacramento, Sheppards and Lapsley, Western 
Colorado, Western New York. 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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