With the legalization of same-sex marriage in Minnesota, the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area (PTCA) issued a reminder to churches that civil action by the legislature does not affect the Book of Order, which governs the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Presbytery officials sent out an email blast May 17 to its 71 member congregations about action by the Minnesota legislature taken earlier in May regarding same-sex unions.
On May 14, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law the same-sex marriage bill that takes effect Aug. 1. His signature on the new law came a day after the Senate passed the measure by a 37-30 vote. A week before, the bill passed the House of Representatives by a 75-59 margin.
Minnesota becomes the 12th state to enact legislation approving gay marriage. Over a 10-day period earlier this month, Delaware, Rhode Island and Minnesota all gave the OK for such civil unions to become legal.
The other nine states that have approved same-sex marriages are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Maryland, Maine and Washington.
Even though states have legalized gay marriage, the PCUSA constitution still prohibits clergy from performing such ceremonies and using space for same-sex unions.
The text of the email alert sent to churches in PTCA outlined the matter. It reads:
“On Tuesday, May 14th Governor Mark Dayton signed into law the Freedom to Marry Act legalizing same-sex marriage in the state of Minnesota. It is a sweeping and dramatic change in the legal standing of marriage in this state. This action will create a new landscape regarding ceremonies that are permissible in the life of Minnesota faith communities and each will navigate that landscape according to their particular polity. Some of our own Presbyterian clergy may be asked to perform such ceremonies. This change in civil law in Minnesota does not affect the Book of Order which establishes the parameters of our covenantal life together. While it may create a difficult situation for some from a pastoral care standpoint, The PC(USA) constitution prohibits Presbyterian clergy from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies. Congregations are also prohibited from using space to conduct such ceremonies. PC(USA) clergy are permitted to do services of blessing for a couple, but these are not to be understood as a marriage ceremony. Civil laws and ecclesiastical standards have always moved at different paces. This is the current reality in that intersection.
“Questions on this matter can be addressed to the Executive Presbyter, the Stated Clerk, or the General Assembly office of Constitutional services.”
For more information, please download the Advisory Opinion on Marriage and Same-Gender Ceremonies.
The names of PTCA Executive Presbyter Chaz Ruark and Stated Clerk William Davnie accompany the alert. Neither responded to calls or emails from The Layman regarding the alert.
In a call to action inspired by several commissioner testimonies at the 220th General Assembly of the PCUSA in Pittsburgh, Pa. last year, More Light Presbyterians (MLP) asked PCUSA teaching elders who have performed same-gender weddings, or who are willing to perform them as the pastoral need arises, to join together and publicly proclaim that witness of pastoral care to the wider church. The invitation to affirm such action also was extended to ruling elders and entire church sessions.
Five of the 289 teaching elders to sign the MLP stand for love stating they have or are willing to marry same-gender couple are from the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area along with nine of the 495 ruling elders who signed a similar document affirming the choice of teaching elders to perform same-gender marriages.
Those teaching elders who signed the document were the Rev. Richard Lundy, Dr. Larry Alderink, the Rev. Dr. Richard Headen, the Rev. Timothy Johnson and the Rev. Lindsay Louise Biddle.
Ruling elders (those currently serving a session or not) who gave their endorsement of the MLP stand for love were Betsy Kerr, Ruling Elder Steven Theiss, Ruling Elder Kay Myhrman-Toso, Jeri Lenz-Papke, Jim Hooker, Ruling Elder Benjamin Masters, Laura Kadwell, Leo Gehlhoff and Nancy Scott.
“Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the wellbeing of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.”
Furthermore, the PCUSA constitution does not allow teaching elders to perform and officiate same-gender marriages, and those officers authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply or represent that a same-sex ceremony is a marriage. However, a 2008 General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) ruling indicated there is “no prohibition in W-4.9001 against performing a same-sex ceremony” or blessing of a union. However, the PCUSA teaching elder must make a clear distinction that a same-gender union ceremony is not a marriage.
The Advisory Opinion on Marriage and Same-Gender Ceremonies also is clear that church facilities are not to be used for same-sex union ceremonies determined to be a marriage ceremony, and it points out that changes in state law do not amend the Book of Order. That ruling was handed down in Southard v. Presbytery of Boston when the GAPJC stated further noted, “in light of the change in the laws of some states, this Commission reiterates that officers of the PC(USA) who are authorized to perform marriages, when performing a ceremony for a same-gender couple, shall not state, imply, or represent that the same-gender ceremony is an ecclesiastical marriage ceremony as defined by PCUSA polity, whether or not the civil jurisdiction allows same-gender civil marriages.”
Editor’s note from Carmen Fowler LaBerge:
Several of the comments posted to this article suggest that the Presbyterian Lay Committee is supporting or endorsing “Stand for Love” campaign. That is not accurate. As has been reported elsewhere by The Layman, the Stand for Love campaign is an effort by pro-LGBTQ advocates through which PCUSA ministers are openly confessing to flagrant violations of the denomination’s constitution. Others are using Stand for Love to express a willingness to allow their PCUSA churches to be used for purposes that are expressly contrary to the ruling of the denomination’s Permanent Judicial Commission in regard to same-sex marriage ceremonies. The PLC does not support the Stand for Love initiative. The article here was posted as a news story about the action taken by a presbytery to inform its members and congregations that the denomination’s standards remain even as the state’s rules have changed in relationship to same-sex marriage in Minnesota.