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Marriage equality
Posts from 2008-09

For some of our earlier and more recent posts on marriage equality --
bulletfrom 2010
bulletfrom 2003
bulletmore general posts on sexual justice, including marriage
Celebrating the overturning of Prop 8

Still Married!

Craig Wiesner, whose marriage to Derrick Kikuchi was re-celebrated (with a marriage license!) at the More Light Presbyterians dinner at General Assembly in June, 2008, sent this happy note to Tikkun Daily on August 4, 2010:

Twenty years and four months after our marriage in the First Presbyterian Church, and 2 years after the County of San Mateo issued our marriage license and the minister who had married us 20 years earlier got to sign our marriage certificate, a federal judge declared today that our marriage remains legal (we weren’t the plaintiffs in the case, but were married in San Mateo County during the brief window when California allowed gay marriage). And… he declared the ban on gay marriage passed by voters in California to be in violation of the United States Constitution.

Pass the chocolate cake – it is time to celebrate … and get back to work after the frosting is gone because there’s a whole lot of work to do.   More >>

Judge Hands Victory to Proposition 8 Opponents, Gay-Marriage Ban Overturned    [8-4-10]

New York Magazine reports:

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled on Wednesday that the California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative denying marriage rights to same-sex couples was unconstitutional, in a case that will almost certainly go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Walker ruled that Proposition 8 is "unconstitutional under both the due process and equal protection clauses." The court, therefore, "orders entry of judgment permanently enjoining its enforcement." Two key sentences from the ruling:

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same sex couples.   The full article >>

Just a little comment from your WebWeaver: The loving, liberating hand of God seems to move a bit faster than the Presbyterian Church. But change is coming!

Got comments?  Please send a note!

Two more steps forward for same-sex marriage    [7-15-10]


DC court rules against foes of marriage equality             

News report from the Human Relations Campaign, dated 7-15-10

Big victory for marriage equality in DC! Today the DC Court of Appeals ruled against foes of DC marriage equality who had wanted to put an initiative on the ballot to invalidate same-sex marriages entered into in the District.

While Bishop Harry Jackson, a pastor in Maryland, has been the public face of this litigation, the truth is that outside groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Alliance Defense Fund are the driving force behind these anti-equality measures. ...

In its decision, the Court of Appeals, D.C.’s highest court, decided 5-4 that the Council properly exercised its authority under the D.C. Charter in establishing the requirement that a proposed initiative may not authorize, or have the effect of authorizing, discrimination prohibited by the D.C. Human Rights Act. The Court ruled unanimously that the proposed initiative would in fact impermissibly permit discrimination against gays and lesbians in the District.   More >>


Argentina becomes first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage

The Christian Science Monitor reports: "After more than 14 hours of a heated debate and warring words, Argentina today became the first country in Latin America to embrace same-sex marriage nationwide."     Read the article

The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage
Why same-sex marriage is an American value.

New Jersey Senate defeats gay marriage bill

The New York Times reported on January 8, 2010:

TRENTON — The State Senate on Thursday rejected a proposal that would have made New Jersey the sixth state in the nation to allow marriages involving same-sex couples. The vote was the latest in a succession of setbacks for advocates of gay marriage across the country.

After months of intense lobbying and hours of emotional debate, lawmakers voted 20 to 14 against the bill, bringing tears from some advocates who packed the Senate chambers and rousing applause from opponents of the measure, who also came out in force. The vote ends the effort to win legislative approval of the measure, and sets the stage for a new battle before the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The story concludes:

After the vote, hundreds of supporters of the bill gathered in front of the State House to exchange tearful hugs and plot the next move in their effort. Among them was Christi Sturmont, who said she and her partner were dejected, but not despondent.

“We were holding out hope that we’d be able to get married and have full citizenship,” she said. “But now we’ll have to settle for second-class citizenship. For now. We’re not done fighting.”

For the full NYT report >>

Presbyterian pastor and blogger John Shuck responds with “A Saturday screed” which begins:

Portugal shows it is more decent and humane than New Jersey (and virtually every state in the U.S.) by voting for marriage equality yesterday. Thank you, Portugal! Congratulations for standing up to the bullies!

The parliament approved the measure and it will likely be signed into law by conservative president, Anibal Cavaco Silva. ...

The bill removes a reference in the current law to marriage being between two people of different sexes. “This law rights a wrong,” Prime Minister Jose Socrates said in a speech to lawmakers, adding that it “simply ends pointless suffering.”

Righting a wrong. It is that simple, isn't it? So what is the score on right vs. wrong these days?

Gay marriage is currently permitted in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Norway. Canada, South Africa and six U.S. states also permit it.

We have a way to go. The largest obstacle to justice, to righting wrongs, to being simply decent human beings will be of course, Christians.

Let us consider the Christians. Here is what they are up to as reported by The Raw Story:

The conservative American Family Association is calling on President Barack Obama to fire Amanda Simpson, Obama's transgender appointee to the Commerce Department, because the appointment "puts the weight of the federal government behind the normalization of sexual deviancy."

For the rest of Shuck’s strong, sharp comments >>

Baltimore Presbytery approves sending overture for inclusive marriage   [11-20-09]

The Presbytery of Baltimore at its Stated Meeting on November 19, 2009, voted to approve sending to the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [2010] an overture to amend the Directory For Worship regarding marriage. The vote was 75 in favor, 62 against, and 1 abstention.

Click here for the text of the Baltimore Overture with its Rationale. At its November 19, 2009, Stated Meeting, Baltimore Presbytery voted to amend the original rationale and to replace it with the rationale that now follows the overture.

Please feel free to distribute this information with anyone you choose to, and as widely as you would like to do so.

Sent by Don Stroud on behalf of That All May Freely Serve: Baltimore

For more information you may contact Don at .

From the Presbytery of Baltimore:


[posted here 11-20-09]

UPON the overture of the session of Govans Presbyterian Church, and with the concurrences from the sessions of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church, Deer Creek Harmony Presbyterian Church, Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church, Faith Presbyterian Church, First and Franklin Street Presbyterian Church, Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, Light Street Presbyterian Church, Maryland Presbyterian Church, Roland Park Presbyterian Church, and St. John United Methodist-Presbyterian Church;

The Presbytery of Baltimore at its Stated Meeting on November 19, 2009, voted to approve (75 in favor, 62 against, 1 abstention) that the following overture be sent to the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [2010];

THAT the Directory For Worship of The Book of Order be amended in the following manner: (strike through indicates portions to be deleted; italics indicate additions)

W–4.9001       Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract covenant between a woman and a man two people and according to the laws of the state also constitutes a civil contract. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman two people 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 between two people, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.

W-4.9002         a. In preparation for the marriage service, the minister shall provide for a discussion with the man and the woman two people concerning

             (The remainder of this section remains the same)

W-4.9004        The service begins with the scriptural sentences and a brief statement of purpose. The man and the woman two people shall declare their intention to enter into Christian marriage and shall exchange vows of love and faithfulness. The service includes appropriate passages of Scripture, which may be interpreted in various forms of proclamation. Prayers shall be offered for the couple, for the communities which support them in this new dimension of discipleship, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness. In the name of the triune God the minister shall declare publicly that the woman and the man two people are now joined in marriage.

                                    (The remainder of this paragraph remains the same)

W-4.9006        A service of worship recognizing a civil marriage or civil union and confirming it in the community of faith may be appropriate when requested by the couple. The service will be similar to the marriage service except that the opening statement, the declaration of intention, the exchange of vows by the husband and wife couple , and the public declaration by the minister reflect the fact that the woman and man two people are already married to one another united according to the laws of the state.

Marriage: Sharing God’s Gift Equitably in the Church:
Rationale for an Act of Pastoral Ministry

             The Directory For Worship defines marriage as “…a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family.” (W-4.9001) A gift conferred by God can only be denied by God the giver of the gift.

God’s gift of marriage within the Church is an act of pastoral care by “which Christians offer [support] to one another in daily living in times of need and of crisis in personal and communal life….” (W-6.1003) Pastoral care is a ministry of the whole Church. But it is especially incumbent upon elders, deacons, and ministers of the Word and Sacrament, as a duty and responsibility which they are bound to perform by Christ’s law of love, that they share the gift of pastoral care equitably with all people within the Church. (W-6.1003, W-6.3002, G-6.0304, G-6.0402, G-6.0202)

Currently in our churches and communities same gender couples are living together in loving, committed, monogamous relationships. They are raising children, caring for aging parents and making positive contributions to their communities. These couples include new and long time members of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Their relationships are equivalent to a marriage in every way but formal recognition by the church and by most states in which they live, though some states are recognizing their relationships as marriages or civil unions.

             By changing the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship we would recognize committed, life-long relationships that are already being lived out by our members. We would honor and support the love and commitment they practice in their lives every day. We would bear witness to the love of God as it is expressed between these couples and as we offer that love to them on behalf of the church.

             In addition, as the legal recognition of same gender relationships goes through transitions throughout the country, PC (USA) clergy and sessions are faced with complex decisions regarding ecclesiastical authority and property use. Ministers of the Word and Sacrament currently can face ecclesiastical charges if they follow the mandate of their office to provide pastoral care equitably in the church and thus perform marriage ceremonies or civil unions that may be legal in their state. Ruling elders who follow the mandate of their office to extend the pastoral ministry of the church to all members face a similar liability by authorizing the use of church property for such marriages. Same gender couples who are members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) can come to their Minister and request that Minister to perform their marriage as an agent of the state, only to be denied that important time of pastoral care and ministry because of church law. Broadening the language to offer marriage to any two people removes the religious barriers faced by Ministers, Sessions, church members, and other Christians while continuing to honor the laws of each state. Changing the language in this way emphasizes that the Directory for Worship defines marriage within the bounds of our denomination and does not determine what is legal or illegal in civil law.

             For the good of loving, monogamous same gender couples in our church and for the community and for the greater ministry of our Clergy, Sessions and Churches we propose these changes to the Directory for Worship.


Biblical and Theological Rationale

A search of marriage in the Scripture reveals a broad spectrum of historical marriage practice, some of which we consider foreign today, including: Solomon’s many wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:3), levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-6 and Matthew 22:23-32), wives sharing female servants with their husband to increase progeny (Genesis 29-30), divorce and remarriage as equal to adultery (Mark 10:12), and women being commanded to remain silent in church and only ask their husbands for instruction at home (1 Corinthians 14:33-36).

We believe the central passage about marriage in the Bible is also the central passage of the Bible as a whole, though it does not mention the word “marriage.” It is Matthew 22:37-38: “He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In addition, we are reminded of the centrality of love in all our decisions in 1 John 4:16b: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Other meaningful and relevant passages about love that apply to marriage are John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” and Romans 12:10: “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” Then Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:28 that in Christ so many of the boundary lines we draw between one another are erased. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

             With passages like these firmly in our hearts and minds we work to interpret the whole message of Scripture through the lens of Christ. We strive to discern the love, grace, and salvation of God as revealed in the historical and social context in which the Scriptures were written. Then we ask how we may live out that love, grace, and salvation in our own historical and social context.

             This mode of biblical interpretation is at the heart of our Reformed tradition. It is an essential of Reformed faith that the seat of ultimate authority in the church, inclusive of the church’s understanding of the witness of Scripture and the Confessions, is Jesus Christ.

“Obedience to Jesus Christ alone identifies the one universal church and supplies the continuity of its tradition.” (BOC 9.03)

“…The Church, in obedience to Jesus Christ, is open to the reform of its standards of doctrine as well as of governance.” (Book of Order G-2.0200)

“When controversy arises about the right understanding of any passage or sentence of Scripture or for the reformation of any abuse within the Kirk of God, we ought not so much ask what [men] have said and done before us, as what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks in the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded.” (BOC 3.18; See also BOC 5.010 and 9.29, 9.30)

Some of the more helpful passages that speak specifically of marriage remind us that the purpose of marriage in a Christian context is that two people support each other as disciples of Jesus Christ. Paul warns of the entanglements of marriage for life as a disciple as well as the benefits it provides for those who do not have the gift of celibacy (1 Corinthians 7). Jesus uses strong rhetoric to warn against the way marriage may pull us away from our devotion to God: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25, 26) But, when marriage does empower two people to live lives of service, self-sacrifice, simplicity, and sharing God’s love in Christ, then the marriage is fulfilling the spirit of Christ as proclaimed in Scripture. It is our conviction and experience that loving, monogamous, homosexual relationships enable gay and lesbian people to find support and empowerment to live as more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.             

But, perhaps the most meaningful word related to marriage in the Bible is from Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” In addition to being a definition of servanthood and discipleship, this could be read as a definition of marriage. In our churches today there are Christian men and women bearing one another’s burdens in the context of life-long, loving, monogamous homosexual relationships. They are raising children, caring for parents, contributing to their neighborhoods, communities, and churches. We find no biblical warrant for denying them full access to “…a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family.” (W-4.9001) Again we assert that a gift conferred by God can only be denied by God the giver of the gift.

The communal story of the early Church clearly demonstrates that the Church led by God’s grace in Jesus Christ grasped new understandings of the expansiveness of the distribution of God’s gifts to all humankind and changed its beliefs and actions accordingly. Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26, 27, 35, 38) and Peter’s visions in which God taught him that nothing God created was common or unclean (Acts 10:15,19,20a, 23b, 28, 29a, 47) show that the Church was pressed to change its entire perspective on how God worked in the world and was challenged to dismantle understandings that had been accepted for centuries, e.g., that Jews have nothing to do with unclean gentiles.

The proper pastoral response to the neighbor in need (Lk. 10:25-37) is to break through any social, legal, or religious taboos that cause us to see another human being in need as less than ourselves and unworthy of God’s gifts freely given. The rule of love (Deut. 6:5; Lk. 10:27, 37b) will not permit us to withhold the performance of the duties of pastoral care on the basis of our judging another person common or unclean.

In the Church today loving committed same gender couples who hear the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ that enables them to give themselves in covenant to one another are saying, “Look, here is our love. What is to prevent us from receiving God’s gift of marriage – God’s gift to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family?”


The proposed changes to the Directory For Worship regarding marriage insure that God’s gift of marriage shall be shared equitably in the Church in fulfillment of the Church’s pastoral ministry and its communal story as the Body of Christ.


Gay marriage repealed in Maine

‘Yes on 1’ claims victory, repeal opponents ‘will regroup’

The Bangor Daily News reports that Maine voters have rejected a law allowing same-sex couples to marry, in a major setback to gay rights advocates hoping the northeastern US state would become the first in the country where voters directly approve gay marriage.

The full news story >>

Same-gender marriage? Let the Special Committee hear about it!      [10-26-09]

The Special Committee on Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage says the PCUSA can’t agree on marriage and holy unions. Pam Byers, executive director of Covenant Network, suggests we let them hear some clear affirmations and examples of what marriage can and does (or might!) mean for many same-gender couples.

Her note to Covenant Network members:

Dear Friends,

Note November 15 deadline.  See below - thanks!

For me, and I expect for many of you, an important way we live out our discipleship is in a marriage.  Whether or not that opportunity/gift/challenge/means of grace can be available to same-gender partners is a very lively, current question in both society and the church.  As you know, civil law on this matter seems to change almost weekly.  (Shockingly, both Maine and Washington will vote next month on whether to overturn newly enacted laws to recognize same-gender partnerships in their state. Please hold those votes in prayer in coming days!)

As you probably know, the 2008 General Assembly established a Special Committee on Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage.  Like all Presbyterian Special Committees, it was specifically chosen to represent the full theological range of our church. Its unanimous draft report provides good and succinct information on several issues it was asked to cover, including biblical understandings of marriage, theology of marriage over time, differences between civil unions and marriage, and the legal and financial effects of these differences on same-gender partners and their children.

On the last question they were asked to address, however, “the place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community,” they acknowledge, “the PCUSA cannot agree.”   Instead, they unanimously adopted a remarkable series of affirmations, including that members of same-gender partnerships are active members of the church, that the PCUSA has long supported the full legal rights and benefits of civil unions for same-sex partners, and that both those who oppose and those who support extending Christian marriage to same-gender unions base their views on faithful, conscientious interpretations of scripture.

And they adopted and commend to the church a covenant that acknowledges that Christ, not we, calls us into the church and binds us to one another.  They remind us of the special Presbyterian call to mutual discernment and mutual forbearance.

Their draft report includes no recommendations.  The committee is asking for response to its report and input to its possible recommendations. I hope very much that you will read the report carefully and then send them your response.  (And urge your session to send a response as well!)  I can promise you that many Presbyterians who believe that same-gender-loving church members must be celibate are writing in; if your understanding is different, the committee needs to hear from you!

Please share your own experience with same-gender couples you know, their place in your congregation, their effect on your own life of faith.  If you are a part of such a couple, how does your church’s blessing of your relationship help you - or the absence of blessing affect you?  If you are a pastor, what pastoral dilemmas do you face, as you decide which couples in your congregation you can encourage to make lifelong vows of covenantal faithfulness – or not?

Think prayerfully about what the mutual forbearance urged by the committee might mean in practice.  Then write in and share your views.

Please limit your response to 1,000 words.  Send it by November 15 to the Special Committee on Issues of Civil Union & Christian Marriage.

That deadline is important for your response.  But both the committee’s report and no doubt many overtures about marriage and civil unions will be coming to the 2010 G.A.  
Your congregation can get a head start on the issues by studying our booklet Frequently Asked Questions about Sexuality, the Bible & the Church, especially these chapters:

         * What do Presbyterians Say About Marriage?

         * Is Gender Complementarity Essential to Christian Marriage?

         * What Do the Confessions Teach About Sexuality?

Two recent books can also provide important resources for adult ed or other congregational study:  
    Stacy Johnson’s  A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, & Politics  (a free study guide is available), and     

    Chris Glaser’s newest book, As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage.

As you think about your marriage or other marriages you know, and what they mean to you, I hope you’ll take this moment to share your reflections with the Special Committee and let them know why you believe that God can offer this gift and call to whomever God chooses.

Thank you!

Faithfully yours,

:)   Pam 

Same-gender marriage as an issue of religious freedom - from The Interfaith Alliance   [10-14-09]

The Interfaith Alliance looks at same-gender marriage through a focus on religious freedom, and calls for "quiet conversations" about the issue, seeking ways for people with differing beliefs, values, and opinions to live together in a democracy. 

To read the paper >>

To download the same paper in PDF format >>

Thanks to Gene TeSelle

Overture on same sex marriage proposed in Baltimore Presbytery

From Don Stroud on behalf of the eleven sessions and That All May Freely Serve: Baltimore

At the September 24, 2009, Stated Meeting of Baltimore Presbytery eleven sessions of churches in Baltimore Presbytery introduced for a first reading with the final debate and vote to take place at the November 19, 2009, Stated Meeting a motion THAT, the Presbytery of Baltimore approve a proposed overture to the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): That the Directory For Worship be amended in (W-4.9001; W-4.9002; W-4.9004; W-4.9006) to make the section on marriage inclusive of same gender couples. 

Click here for the text of the Marriage Overture in a more generic form so that other presbyteries that will do so might introduce a similar overture in their own judicatories, along with more information about the proposed overture.

The eleven Baltimore Presbytery Church Sessions are: Govans Presbyterian (initiator of overture), Light Street Presbyterian, Faith Presbyterian, Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian, St John United Methodist-Presbyterian, First and Franklin Street Presbyterian, Roland Park Presbyterian, Dickey Memorial Presbyterian, Maryland Presbyterian, Good Shepherd Presbyterian, and Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian

We in Baltimore have been in touch with contacts in seven other presbyteries and appreciate that actions have already been taken to introduce a similar marriage overture or discussions are in progress about doing so.

We in Baltimore urge others in other progressive presbyteries to introduce a similar overture in their presbyteries. We feel strongly that other presbyteries should not wait for Baltimore to act in order to concur with Baltimore. Although we shall work as diligently as we did to get this same overture before the 218th GA, we do not want to put all our eggs in one basket. So go for it in your presbyteries as well! On November 19th when Baltimore Presbytery hopefully does approve the overture, we of course shall appreciate other presbyteries concurring with our action if they so desire.

PLEASE NOTE IN THE PROPOSED OVERTURE: Our present Rationale appears. Other presbyteries are encouraged to write their own Rationales if they are either passing their own overture or concurring with an overture already passed by another presbytery. If a presbytery is concurring with another presbytery and its Rationale is different then that Rationale will be included in the reports to the commissioners. Of course, a presbytery may choose to concur without writing a different Rationale. All presbyteries that either send an overture or concur with another presbytery’s overture have the right to send an Overture Advocate to speak before the GA Committee to which the overture is assigned. Also, remember that any overture or concurring overture that seeks a constitutional change must meet the 120-day deadline for submission to the Office of the GA.



See introductory note above.

THAT, the Presbytery of XXX approve the following proposed overture to the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (2010):

That the Directory For Worship of The Book of Order be amended in the following manner: (strike through indicates portions to be deleted; italics indicate additions)

W–4.9001       Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract covenant between a woman and a man two people and according to the laws of the state also constitutes a civil contract. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman two people 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 between two people, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.

W-4.9002         a. In preparation for the marriage service, the minister shall provide for a discussion with the man and the woman two people concerning

 (The remainder of this section remains the same)

W-4.9004        The service begins with the scriptural sentences and a brief statement of purpose. The man and the woman two people shall declare their intention to enter into Christian marriage and shall exchange vows of love and faithfulness. The service includes appropriate passages of Scripture, which may be interpreted in various forms of proclamation. Prayers shall be offered for the couple, for the communities which support them in this new dimension of discipleship, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness. In the name of the triune God the minister shall declare publicly that the woman and the man two people are now joined in marriage.

                        (The remainder of this paragraph remains the same) 

W-4.9006        A service of worship recognizing a civil marriage or civil union and confirming it in the community of faith may be appropriate when requested by the couple. The service will be similar to the marriage service except that the opening statement, the declaration of intention, the exchange of vows by the husband and wife couple , and the public declaration by the minister reflect the fact that the woman and man two people are already married to one another united according to the laws of the state. 


Currently in our churches and communities same gender couples are living together in loving, committed, monogamous relationships. They are raising children, caring for aging parents and making positive contributions to their communities. These couples include new and long time members of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Their relationships are equivalent to a marriage in every way but formal recognition by the church and by most states in which they live, though some states are recognizing their relationships as marriages or civil unions.

By changing the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship we would recognize committed, life-long relationships that are already being lived out by our members. We would honor and support the love and commitment they practice in their lives every day. We would bear witness to the love of God as it is expressed between these couples and as we offer that love to them on behalf of the church.

In addition, as the legal recognition of same gender relationships goes through transitions throughout the country, PC (USA) clergy and sessions are faced with complex decisions regarding ecclesiastical authority and property use. Ministers of Word and Sacrament currently can face ecclesiastical charges if they perform marriage ceremonies or civil unions that may be legal in their state. Same gender couples who are members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) can come to their Minister and request that Minister to perform their marriage as an agent of the state, only to be denied that important time of pastoral care and ministry because of church law. Broadening the language to offer marriage to any two people removes the religious barriers faced by Ministers, Sessions, church members, and other Christians while continuing to honor the laws of each state. Changing the language in this way emphasizes that the Directory for Worship defines marriage within the bounds of our denomination and does not determine what is legal or illegal in civil law.

For the good of loving, monogamous same gender couples in our church and for the community and for the greater ministry of our Clergy, Sessions and Churches we propose these changes to the Directory for Worship.


'We cannot agree,' says marriage/unions panel

GA special committee's preliminary report includes no recommendations       [9-29--09]

Jerry L. Van Marter of Presbyterian News Service reported from Louisville on September 21, 2009:

The Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Unions and Christian Marriage has acknowledged what has been clearly demonstrated in debates, governing body votes and judicial decisions throughout the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Presbyterians are not of one mind on the role of same-gender relationships in the church.

The special committee, authorized by the 2008 General Assembly, unanimously approved its preliminary report to the 2010 Assembly here Sept. 17, answering the central question before it - What is the place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community? - with a three word response: "We cannot agree."

Though it reached unanimous agreement on the preliminary version of its report – the group will receive feedback from the church until Nov. 15 and prepare a final report at its Jan 22-25, 2010 meeting – it tabled action on any recommendations it might make.

The full report >>


Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal posted a brief report on the committee’s lack of agreement, concluding with this line: “One Kentucky Presbyterian elder and sociologist says the committee 'wimps out' by failing to give a clearer recommendation to the next General Assembly.”

Smith’s report >>

More on marriage and civil unions:

Comments on Civil Union and Marriage
Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament
Jan Hus Church and Neighborhood House
New York, New York

August 16, 2009; 11:15 P.M.
[Posted here on 8-19-09]

I don't often link any other societal challenges to the efforts for a more just and inclusive church for our sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT). I find that any reference to human and spiritual struggles of other groups immediately shifts the discussion to the supporting argument. Given the choice, most people will choose to discuss almost anything other than the marginalization or second-class status of people who identify as LGBT. I speak not about gay people but as a gay person involved in our church's struggle.

However, I will break with my practice in this way: consider the Bible's prohibition of women from serving in the early church and the Bible’s acceptance of slavery.

1 Corinthians 11:5:

Let the women keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a disgrace for a woman to speak in church.

Matthew 10:24-25:

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!

There are other references, in fact many - a simple search will produce the ones that don't immediately come to mind.

We all know that over time these teachings of Paul and statements in Matthew attributed to Jesus (along with other verses of Scripture) have been explained away in a variety of ways. Simply, these early teachings and practices were wrong and abhorrent. They still are where practiced today. My question, though, is, "Was God wrong?" I mean if these were accepted practices of the early church, as terrible as they were, now that we reject them - how did we come to know that God changed God's mind about them or that God was wrong. Or did we just figure out that God didn't mean it in the first place? Or were the Scriptures wrong, mistranslated, or worse - did Jesus actually agree with slavery? Really...

Who drew the line? How did we know when and where it was drawn? How many centuries did women and slaves suffer until we all agreed that the Bible was wrong long before the practices changed. And what about the people who were rebuked, punished, stoned, jailed, returned to their "masters" (like Jesus and the Centurion's slave). What about all the violence, harms, and damages that were done in the name of faithfulness to the Scriptures and teachings of Jesus? How complicit are we in the tragedy that became institutionalized while we waited to step up...? How quickly would we undo these things if we could go back, way back?

Something was as wrong back then about women and slavery as it is wrong now about folk who are LGBT. Regardless of how the Bible was used then...these practices were always wrong. Regardless of the how the Bible is used today against LGBT folk...these practices are always wrong. Further, just as the solution to women's rights and slavery was not to have slaves free half the time or women free half the time - neither is the solution for embracing same gender covenantal relationships in the half-step of civil unions. In fact, such a decision to many of us is as insulting and hate-filled as the Three-fifths Compromise of our country’s early history. We need to get this right.

After all, can we really hinge our love and justice on the same rationalizations that kept women and slaves quarantined from God as full and free creations of God? Who is wrong here? The Bible or God? Is God going to change God's mind again? Should we just wait some more? How will we know when it is time? Will we continue to make this church less representative of a welcoming God and more representative of a comfortable few?

Honestly, as you can probably tell, I am unwilling to be considered as anything less than a full creation of God and baptized member of this church. It continues to be difficult for me, knowing myself and other sisters and brothers who are LGBT, to comprehend how our welcoming into this church should even be a cause for discussion.

Still, I am as grateful for your work as I am certain that we need to stand up for full marriage for all our sisters and brothers in this church and the society into which we bring the Good News of the Church of Jesus Christ.


For the record: I don't believe God had it wrong. I believe we did, and I believe we have it wrong now. May you agree.

Another testimony on behalf of marriage

This just in from a long-time Witherspoon member and former national staff member:

On May 23, 2009, at North Garden, Virginia, I had the honor and privilege of conducting the marriage ceremony for my grandson, Patrick Evans, and his partner, Jason Becton. It was a wonderful, Spirit-filled service with about 200 friends and family standing by in support and breaking into enthusiastic applause when I pronounced them joined in marriage. They had actually been married in Connecticut a month earlier, but this service with its Christian connection together with the full support of both families and of the caring community was exceedingly important. Of course I support the marriage of two people who clearly love each other and who yearn for the positive support of family and friends as they seek to fulfill their covenant promises to each other. The fact that they are of the same gender is irrelevant.

 August 15, 2009

Rev. Lew Lancaster HR
Louisville, Ky

Two more Witherspoon friends offer comments on marriage and civil unions

We have recently posted a number of letters that have been sent to the General Assembly Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage, which have been requested by the Committee to inform its work.

Barbara Kellam Scott, writer and former Witherspoon board member, has shared with us her letter:

Dear brothers and sisters of the General Assembly Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage:  

First, of course, you are in my prayers for taking the spot on the spearhead of that issue on which, whatever you say, you must upset large numbers of us out here in the pulpits, pews, counseling offices, chaplaincies, and other locations of ministry as the PC(USA).  

The primary horn of your dilemma, as limited to the issue of family commitments between the members of the Body of Christ who know themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered, is that those members have made, do make, and will make such commitments, in exactly the same way that any of God's children do. We make these commitments whether or not and regardless under what label either civil or church authorities recognize them. We make these commitments because God calls us together in community. Because God calls us to intimacy of many kinds. Because soul touches soul.  

My own understanding of this part of the human condition began when a friend and secular-work colleague explained his plans to formalize his relationship with his girlfriend by saying "I just recognized that what we had was a marriage." I had been born into, and had formed for myself, conventional families of man and woman, dating our marriages according to civil licenses signed by the ministers who officiated at church rites. But my friend Patrick's perspective came back to me years later, when I traveled from New Jersey to Florida to take over assisting in the care of my Dad after cancer surgery, so that his partner David could return to work.  

Dad had been faithful to the vows of his marriage to my Mother for more than 48 years. He had seen her through her death, at home, alone with him, just five weeks after the confirmed diagnosis of untreatable pancreatic cancer. He had asked me to witness his removing his wedding ring the morning after her memorial service, and I experienced that act as sacramental, though it appears in no order of worship and no prayers were verbalized. In the last year of her life, however, Mother and Dad had been given opportunities, through the hateful accusations of the widow of Dad's dearest friend from his professional life, to consider the many kinds of intimacy that may be expressed between God's adult children, depending on their social and life experiences at the moment they are called together. On their way home from receiving that final diagnosis, when Mother told Dad her wish that he remarry, and he told her he didn't think he had time to form another heterosexual relationship, with all of its complexities, she encouraged him, simply, to "Find yourself another Jim."  

Dad has found another Jim in David. There are many things I find incomprehensible in their relationship. But what was absolutely clear to me in that Florida cancer hospital was that 'what they have is a marriage.' Not only had David spent his vacation from work supporting Dad, I saw when I got there that he was providing Dad with an intimacy of physical, emotional, and yes, spiritual support (though Dad's the one bearing holy orders, albeit inactive) that neither the medical staff nor I could possibly provide. It was an intimacy that I have never seen except in marriage. It involves humiliating bodily functions. It involves heartbreaking fears and suffering. It involves teasing in a way that communicates profound respect and love. It is the stuff of marriage.  

I wish the State of Florida would recognize Dad and David's marriage, but mostly so I could be sure, when David needs to attend to Dad's care in a hospital — or Dad to David's care — that they won't have prejudice added to their caretaking burdens. I wish I could tell them of a church that would recognize their marriage and celebrate with them their formation of a community within the household of God. I'm glad they don't confront issues of bringing children into civil or church communities and wondering whether their family will be recognized, accepted, included.  

What I don't have to wish for is that they know the love of God as it is expressed in marriage. That they have, and I am honored to bear witness to it. In civil society or as the worldly manifestation of the household of God, we do not have the privilege of creating holiness, only of celebrating it as it has been given by God in marriage and other relationships among God's children. I am ashamed that my church denies itself that privilege in so many cases, and even more ashamed that some of us think that's more important than the marriages we ignore.  

May God speak to you in the voices you hear from across the church, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, may you have the courage to speak to the church with that voice of joyous celebration.  

Barbara Kellam-Scott
Sussex NJ
Elder member, Presbyterian Church at Franklin Lakes
Writer in Residence, Presbytery of the Palisades=

See her website at


Edith Sinclair Downing sent this note (slightly edited here):

I am all for same sex unions and hope and pray our dear church will see the light!!! I am attaching some published hymn texts I have written on the subject. My prayers continue for our church to see God's will for us. My brother attended the union of my niece’s eldest with her partner. Rebecca Zeitlin, my niece's daughter, is finishing medical school specialization and her friend is an attorney. It was a truly nurturing experience those attending.

She sent some of the hymn texts that she has written on this subject. Here’s one of them:                 


                                                 76.76 D

We stand with those excluded,
with those who need to know
God’s care that Christ has taught us,
and trusted us to show.

O Love That Has No Limit,
you offer your embrace
Help us to be more faithful
in this our time, our place.

We grieve our culture’s bias
against diversity;
for the gift of creation
includes variety.

Help us as your own family
to live the faith we own,
assuring every person
they do not walk alone.

We each have gifts to offer
to share the Spirit’s power.
Help us to find together
new ways for hope to flower.

We celebrate our calling
to be your Church today.
Let us, Christ’s living body,
now live the words we pray!

Text by Edith Sinclair Downing
Topics: Welcome, Acceptance
Source: Ephesians 4: 4-7
© 2008, Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc.

This hymn is included in Edith’s recent book, Through Joy and Sorrow.

Want to share your thoughts on same-sex marriage and holy unions?

Get them to the GA study committee by this Sunday, August 16!


What is the place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community?

It is a question the General Assembly Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage is posing to the church for input. And now’s the time – before Sunday, August 16 – to let them hear from you!

One firm rule: Say what you want to say in a maximum of 1000 words.

Responses can be sent electronically to , or mailed to Civil Union and Christian Marriage Committee, Office of the General Assembly, Room 4621, 100 Witherspoon Street, Louisville, KY 40202-1396.

For the full news release from the Office of the General Assembly >>

Here are a couple good examples, in addition to what we have posted before (just scroll down farther and you'll find them):

From Margaret E. ("Peggy") Howland, retired minister

My Thoughts on Same Sex Unions in the Church

As one of the first women ordained a minister in the PCUSA 51 years ago in 1958, I know firsthand what it is like to know God’s call to ministry when people in my own church did not wish to let God call women to ministry. Becoming ordained did not exempt me from discrimination and prejudice against women either in society or in the church! I will be 76 years old next month, and I am thankful that women have much greater opportunity and rights in the church today, although there is still more to do.

I believe the situation of LGBT Christians and church members is like this. Whether or not Presbyterian humans recognize their loving partnerships as “family”, I believe God sees them as such. And today, more and more gay and lesbian partnered couples believe that God loves them and blesses their partnership and family life, even when society and the church do not.

There are many in the church who think these brother and sister Christians are not proper human beings with the rights and privileges and responsibilities that “straight” members of society and the church enjoy. That is why the job of this committee needs to be prophetic and open up the topic in expansive and loving ways that will be helpful to thoughtful Presbyterians who need opportunities to grow and learn and change their minds!

I have made it my business in the last ten years to get acquainted with LGBT church members in the PCUSA and other Christian churches. They have taught me a great deal and I have become a friend and ally in ways that I never imagined. I have found their worship to be joyous and their faith to be amazingly strong in the face of condemnation, cruelty and persecution. I have experienced them as children of God with all the human needs and hopes and aspirations as the rest of us.

I started out working for an inclusive church that would recognize “out” LGBT Christians as eligible to be considered for ordination. I have known numerous LGBT elders, deacons and ministers who bore the pain of living secretly in the closet so they could be considered “normal”. All of my own fears and concerns long ago disappeared as I came to see that LGBT Christians are not different from us who are heterosexual Christians, and that they are entitled to the same life opportunities under the law, in society and in the church. So I now fully support the opportunity for LGBT singles, couples and families to be part of the church and all of its rites and sacraments and worship.

I believe that their love for one another is a love that God blesses, and it is only what any Christian couple would choose, to be married in the church. I am also supporting changing the New York State laws to permit same sex marriages in my state, as NY State already recognizes same sex marriages that have been legalized elsewhere. The secular community has long since begun recognizing same sex unions as having equal rights and privileges such as hospital visitation, family insurance coverage, pension beneficiaries, medical care, etc.

As a pastor, I became aware as much as 40 years ago of discrimination against loving partners at the illness or death of a partner. This was true both for “common law” heterosexual non-married partnerships and for same-sex gay or lesbian partnerships. Hospitals would not allow visitors in intensive care units that they did not consider to be “family”. Funerals were arranged by the blood-related “family”, while painfully dis-connecting the life partner from any place in the funeral or memorial services. Of course, I recognize that these rights can be given legally by secular laws and rules, with or without the church’s blessing.

But as a pastor who is bringing God’s love and grace to the lives of God’s children, who am I to deny God’s blessings, comfort, and the rites of the church? What kind of pastor would I be to extend to those in my congregation the suffering, pain and discrimination brought by others in society outside the church?

In a world of so much violence, hatred and war, how dare we in the church condemn people for loving relationships? How dare we take ancient Bible verses, pull them out of context and force modern-day interpretations and meanings on words that certainly did not have the identical connotations as the 21st century English words we use to translate them? How dare we use such questionable “biblical teachings” to attack and harm people who are just as much children of God as we are, at the same time ignoring Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves?

I beg you to be brave and bold to declare God’s love and approval for loving relationships and partnerships, and help the church see the all-inclusive love of God for gay and straight alike.

I recognize that some people are making the case for separating the legal and civil recognition of marriage from the church’s blessing of marriage. In that case, it becomes all the more important that the church bless same-sex unions and marriage for our members.

I believe we should use the word “marriage” for both same-sex and opposite-sex committed partnerships. I do not wish to defy the authority of the Presbyterian Church, of which I am a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I have never been asked to marry a same-sex couple or to bless a same-sex union. But I would be willing to do so in an appropriate situation, even at risk to my own status in the church. I hope I would do what I believe God’s love and grace require.

God’s blessings on you in your committee’s work. You have been given an awesome and important task!


Rev. Margaret E. (“Peggy”) Howland, HR
Presbytery of Hudson River
Yonkers, NY

 From Bill Coop, retired minister:

As a pastor I have had the joy of celebrating the union of persons who have covenanted with one another be it called Marriage, Union or Covenant. I resent the fact that I need to say, "and by the authority of the State" when a couple desires to make it legal. We need to look at the co-option of clergy as instruments of the state definition of marriage. I know of clergy friends who refuse to "Marry" couples, preferring to bless the union either before or after the fact of the State obtained seal of approval. It would probably be best for all of us to have that understanding of the role of the Church in the recognition of a relationship 'before God and those present'. 

This would go a long way to get us to the point of ritual honesty in the blessing of relationships. It would also help to strengthen the concept of covenant that is more relevant than the paternal construct of marriage (which really is a contract of chattel if you press it to its root). 

I would hope that your work will get beyond the simplistic arguments that have us wallowing in sexuality ever since 1978 and move us to understanding of relationships in their covenantal wholeness before God.

Rev. Bill Coop HR
Brunswick, Maine

Speak out for same-sex marriage!

We've mentioned this before, but John Shuck offers another strong nudge:

I see that Jim Berkley, formerly of the IRD, now of the LayMAN, has written his letter to the Civil Union and Christian Marriage Committee. Presbyweb posted it. Here is a snippet:

We do not love others by setting up faux “covenants” so that they may feel confident and encouraged to continue in sexual sin. We do not love others by failing to warn them about the consequences of their actions, but instead just let them continue in sin to their own destruction.
That is what he thinks of your relationships, my gay and lesbian friends, faux covenants. Allies, that is what he thinks of your friends' and family members' relationships, faux covenants.

This post is not a critique of his letter. I don't even care if you read it. It is the same destructive, harmful nonsense that we can expect from the right wing. He has a right to express it.

The question is this and I put it as bluntly as I can: will he speak for you?

The answer is "yes" unless you speak.

The right wing is churning out the letters and posting them on right wing websites. My post here will probably stir up more anti-lgbt letters. I hope it does more than that.

The committee obviously is not going to be so shallow as simply to take a vote count of pro-lgbt vs. anti-lgbt letters. However, volume does matter (that is why on-line newspapers are always posting those annoying polls).

What matters more is that

bulletif you are reading this and
bulletif you disagree that same-gender relationships are faux covenants
your voice needs to be heard as much as these others.

You don't need to be a member of the clergy to write a letter.

Maybe you are in a "faux" covenant yourself. Tell the committee it ain't faux.

Maybe you have a friend or family member that the right wing thinks is mo faux. Tell them it isn't so.

Tell your story. Tell the committee and thus the Presbyterian Church that same-gender relationships are the real thing and a far cry from faux covenants.

Perhaps you are not really sure where you stand, but you do think that clergy and congregations need the freedom of conscience to provide pastoral care to all of their members and that blessing these relationships is an important part of that care.

This committee needs to hear the voice of reason and compassion. You are that voice.

Here are the guidelines.

Responses can be sent electronically or mailed to Civil Union and Christian Marriage Committee, Office of the General Assembly, Room 4621, 100 Witherspoon Street, Louisville, KY 40202-1396.

We have until August 16th.
A reminder:  Let the Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage hear from you!    [7-21-09]

We have received this helpful reminder (and example) from the Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, and we're happy to pass it along to you all.

Dear Friends -

We have been given the opportunity to forward input to the Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, as they consider their recommendations for our church.
I have responded and ask you to please consider a response, as well, regardless of your position. As you might imagine, I have strong feelings about marriage being available for the LGBT community and its families, just as it is for our sisters and brothers who are not excluded by current restrictions.
You may disagree or have some other opinions. I believe deeply in the importance of all voices being heard, even when we disagree. So, please take a few moments to write. The information can be found here on the Presbyterian News Service
If interested, you can read what I have sent to the committee at If you would like a pdf copy of my comments, just let me know. I'll be happy to send them.
Thank you for engaging in this conversation. It is so important....
To much peace,
Episcopal bishops OK prayer for gay couples

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- 07.15.09 -- Episcopal bishops authorized the church Wednesday to start drafting an official prayer for same-sex couples, another step toward acceptance of gay relationships that will deepen the rift between the denomination and its fellow Anglicans overseas.

The bishops voted 104-30 at the Episcopal General Convention to "collect and develop theological resources and liturgies" for blessing same-gender relationships, which would be considered at the next national meeting in 2012.

The resolution notes the growing number of states that allow gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships, and gave bishops in those regions discretion to provide a "generous pastoral response" to couples in local parishes.

Many Episcopal dioceses already allow clergy to bless same-sex couples but there is no official liturgy for the ceremonies in the denomination's Book of Prayer. The measure still needs the approval of the lay people and priest delegates at the assembly, which ends Friday.   More >>

A psychologist offers comments to the Christian Marriage/Civil Union committee    [7-13-09]

Witherspoon board member Mitch Trigger sends this note:

Friends, I thought I'd share with you the comments a friend of mine sent to the Christian Marriage/Civil Union committee after I requested he do so. He is a professor of psychology whose specialty is marriage and he is involved in ongoing research involving marriage. He is passionately committed to marriage equality. I hope the committee gives his comments the weight they deserve. He allowed me to share his comments with anyone I felt would benefit.

Mitch Trigger

[Note that the Committee has invited comments from others across the Church.]

The note from Prof. Matthew D. Johnson to the Committee:

Dear committee members,

Your request for input was forwarded to me, and I write in support of offering same-gendered couples the full opportunities of marriage currently available to heterosexual couples. While I feel there are profound theological imperatives for this, I write as a university professor of psychology whose career has been devoted to the empirical study of marriage. Allowing same-gendered couples to marry within the church will benefit the couples and their children. 

It is clear from the research literature that the act of a couple gathering together their friends and family and making a promise to stay committed in front of the people most important to them and in front of God is profound. This leads to greater commitment (feeling compelled to stay in the relationship) and dedication (feeling compelled to actively work on improving the relationship) to their partner. These effects are much stronger when a couple weds than when they simply live together. A wedding that lacks an endorsement from the church may well weaken the benefits of marriage for the couple. 

Strong marriages also benefit the children. A large amount of research conducted in the last two decades suggests that, on average, the presence of two parents is associated with better outcomes for children.

Unwed parents who cohabitate are more similar to married parents than to single parents on variables related to child outcomes, but children in families with married parents have the best health, behavioral and academic outcomes. 

Strengthening families regardless of the gender of the parents should be an important goal of the church, and one way to do this is to allow all couples who seek to enhance their relationship through marriage to do so with the support of the church. 


Matthew D. Johnson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychology
Binghamton University
Binghamton, NY 13902-6000

New Hampshire legislature approves same-sex marriage     [6-4-09]

The Associated Press reports: "New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage after the Senate and House passed key language on religious rights and Gov. John Lynch – who personally opposes gay marriage – signed the legislation Wednesday afternoon. After rallies outside the Statehouse by both sides in the morning, the last of three bills in the package went to the Senate, which approved it 14-10 Wednesday afternoon."   The rest of the story >>

More Light Presbyterians lament the decision to uphold Proposition 8, and commit to keep working for marriage equality  [5-26-09]

May 26. This morning, the California State Supreme Court announced its deeply disappointing decision to uphold Proposition 8. While More Light Presbyterians is pleased that the court recognized the legal marriages of the 18,000 same-sex couples married in 2008, we are profoundly disappointed by its decision to uphold the anti-LGBT, discriminatory Proposition 8 that was narrowly passed by a ballot initiative.  

It is incredible that the legal, equal and civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and their families were not protected by either the Court or the electorate in a state within a country that is committed to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for all of its citizens.

As people of faith and Christians committed to justice, equality and ending discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in both Church and society, while we lament the failure of the state court to maintain marriage equality in California, we are absolutely committed to continue our work for justice. Through PEP, the Presbyterian Equality Project, we will continue to work for marriage equality in civil society as we work for marriage equality within the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Marriage is an equal right, not a heterosexual privilege. We are grateful that a growing number of Christians and citizens are recognizing that love is not restricted by gender and that God's gift of love is bestowed upon same gender loving couples in addition to opposite gender couples. Everyone has the right to be part of a family. 

with hope and grace,

Michael J. Adee, M.Div., Ph.D., Executive Director & Field Organizer, More Light Presbyterians, 369 Montezuma Avenue # 447, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 USA (505) 820-7082,, 

All in God’s Family: Creating Allies for Our LGBT Families

New curriculum material available    [5-26-09]

This note comes to us from Michael Adee, Executive Director & Field Organizer of More Light Presbyterians

If you want your local congregation, campus ministry or seminary community to be genuinely welcoming and affirming of LGBT Families, this new curriculum is for you.

More Light Presbyterians is a founding and sponsoring organization of IWR, the Institute for Welcoming Resources, the faith project of NGLTF.

I encourage you to order this curriculum today. This would be a great resource and complete curriculum for your Fall 2009 Christian Education program offerings.... or anytime.

I so wish that when I was growing up in southwestern Louisiana, trying to find my way as a gay kid and a Christian, in a small Presbyterian church, my parents and our family, our pastor, my Sunday School teachers and our family's congregation could have had this kind of educational resource. There was nothing to help my parents, our family, or our small Presbyterian Church on how to raise gay kids, or be open to LGBT families.  

You can make a difference now in your church for LGBT families.

Click here and scroll down for the media release which explains the curriculum, the organizations who collaborated in creating it, and how you can order it online.

The freedom to marry is at the heart of Christianity

By Rev. Marvin M. Ellison

This essay was published in the Bangor Daily News on April 18, 2009. It is posted here with the kind permission of the author.

As a Christian theologian, I support marriage equality because I take the Bible seriously. More importantly, I take the God of the Bible seriously. The God I worship has a divine passion for justice that compels me to respect all neighbors and defend their human rights, including the freedom to marry regardless of the gender of the two people.

This freedom to marry is important because my religious tradition teaches that love — the call to love and be loved — is at the very heart of what it means to be human. Love is also holy ground. “Where there is love,” the tradition affirms, “there is God.”

Gay men and lesbians, like their heterosexual counterparts, fall in love, enter into committed partnerships, form families, and often raise children, as well as care for other family members. To deny gay couples the freedom to love and marry is morally wrong. It’s a denial of their fundamental humanity as people created in the image of God. To honor same-sex couples with the freedom to marry civilly is one way, and a very important way, to recognize that gay men and lesbians are fully human and can model the best of loving, committed partnerships.

Because marriage equality is a deeply contested issue, our assumptions matter. I assume, first of all, that the institution of marriage has changed and will continue to change. Because of its checkered history, that’s good news. Many traditional marriage laws and practices have been oppressive. Slaves were denied the freedom to marry and form families. Historically, marriage has been far less about love and far more about property and progeny. That love sometimes flourished in these matches is nothing short of miraculous. That abuse, control and lovelessness often reigned is no surprise. 

Second, I assume that marriage should change to fit our contemporary values of regard for women as co-equal with men and respect for the full humanity of gay men and lesbians. 

Third, in honoring the Christian mandate to seek justice and compassion in all things, I assume that any marriage changes should be viewed through the lens of biblical justice. Biblical justice is about right relation: correcting wrongs and restoring people to full dignity in community. Forty years ago, the social wrong was a law prohibiting interracial couples from state-licensed marriage. Now the issue is whether same-sex couples should have equal access to state-licensed marriage and its benefits, protections, and responsibilities.  

Christian support for marriage equality is based on the centrality of the biblical mandate for justice and compassion and on Jesus’ own example of including the marginalized into the beloved community. On the biblical grounds of loving God and loving neighbor as self, including our gay and lesbian neighbors, it is a good thing to recognize the humanity of same-gender loving people and grant their right to civil marriage.

Out of fear and uncertainty, some are tempted to draw a picture of love that is much too small. Our opportunity today is to draw a larger picture of love, commitment, and family that includes same-sex couples. Drawing that bigger, more inclusive picture of love and justice in Maine is sacred work.

The Rev. Marvin M. Ellison, Ph.D., teaches Christian ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary, co-chairs the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Maine, and is author of Same-Sex Marriage? A Christian Ethical Analysis (Pilgrim, 2004).

It's not just Iowa!

Vermont legislature overrides governor’s veto, allows same gender couples to marry    [4-7-09]

The New York Times reports:

The Vermont Legislature on Tuesday overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto of a bill allowing gay couples to marry, mustering one more vote than needed to preserve the measure.

The step makes Vermont the first state to allow same-sex marriage through legislative action instead of a court ruling. The law goes into effect Sept. 1.

The rest of the story >>

But not everybody's happy ...

A U.C.C. “renewal” leader has issued an open letter apologizing to the citizens and Christians of Iowa     [4-7-09]

The Rev. David Runnion-Bareford writes:

Today on behalf of many thousands of Christians who belong to congregations of the United Church of Christ and millions of faithful Christians in the ‘mainline’ churches that helped found our nation, I apologize with a broken heart for our denominational officials and other proponents of faux Christian religion who have publicly advocated and applauded the attempt of your court to redefine marriage. This is an ancient idolatry in new skin.

He goes on to affirm that “Marriage for all of us, regardless of belief, is the primary covenant in which all other human covenants, laws, and governments are grounded.”

The Rev. David Runnion-Bareford is Executive Director of Biblical Witness Fellowship, The Confessing Movement in the United Church of Christ, and President of the Association for Church Renewal, a strategic alliance of renewal ministries in the mainline denominations of North America.

For the full text of his letter >>


For the full text of his letter >>

A reflection from your WebWeaver:

This Holy Week is certainly an appropriate time in the Christian year for contrition and penitence. Rev. Runnion-Bareford expresses his sorrow for what he regards as a betrayal of the Christian faith (the non-“faux” Christian faith, that is) – and of the laws of God and nature as well.

So what would you offer as a matter for contrition and apology this Holy Week? I’d have a long list, and near the top would be U.S. torture of so many people, in so many places; I’d have to add apologies to all those whose humanity has been derided or denied because of who they are, by virtue (and I choose the word intentionally) of the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation, their nationality, their religious faith ... and the list could go on and on.

But what would you list for penitence and apology just now?

Please send a note,
and share your thoughts
as we approach Good Friday and Easter.

Iowa Supreme Court affirms equal rights to marriage

Barbara Gaddis, a Witherspoon member and resident of Boone, Iowa, sends this good-news report   [4-3-09]

Boone, Iowa, April 3, 2009

A bright sunny spring day here in the heartland might be an apt, if trite, metaphor for the great news delivered this morning from the Iowa Supreme Court. The court unanimously struck down the 1998 “Defense of Marriage Act” defining marriage in the state as between one man and one woman. Declaring The Act unconstitutional, the court did not demur by creating a separate “civil union” category for same sex couples, but boldly stated that anything less than marriage for couples did not grant equal rights and protection under the law. The ruling makes Iowa only the third state in the union to allow same sex marriage, behind Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Needless to say this victory for equal rights has been greeted with celebration among progressives here.

However, the airwaves are rife with those on the other side of the ruling. Republican members of the Iowa House and Senate have already stated their opposition to the ruling, vowing to take the issue to a vote of “the people.” In the usual court-bashing rhetoric of the right, we’re hearing about how our “family values” are being threatened by “seven people in black robes.” The relentless pounding that heterosexual marriages will be undermined continues and so we expect to see a constitutional amendment on the ballot in the next election.

But the results of such an election remain uncertain. A recent “Hawkeye poll” conducted by the University of Iowa in late March 2009 indicated that about one third of Iowans support same sex marriage, a third oppose it and one third favor civil unions. The same poll reported those under 35 overwhelmingly support same sex marriage.

For now, we are savoring a wonderful victory for equality! And we are proud to live in Iowa. Come visit! Come get married!

Barbara Gaddis


The report from the New York Times begins:

Iowa became the first state in the Midwest to approve same-sex marriage on Friday, after the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously decided that a 1998 law limiting marriage to a man and a woman was unconstitutional.

The decision was the culmination of a four-year legal battle that began in the lower courts. The Supreme Court said same-sex marriages could begin in Iowa in as soon as 21 days.

The case here was being closely followed by advocates on both sides of the issue. While the same-sex marriage debate has played out on both coasts, the Midwest — where no states had permitted same-sex marriage — was seen as entirely different. In the past, at least six states in the Midwest were among those around the country that adopted amendments to their state constitutions banning same-sex marriage.

“The Iowa statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution,” the justices said in a summary of their decision.

The full report >>


An affirmation of religious liberty

Americans United celebrates the ruling as upholding religious liberty, by stating (in the words of the news release) “that religious denominations have a constitutional right to set their own rules about marriage but that civil law should reflect equal protection for all citizens and not be anchored in religious dogma.”

More >>

More Light Presbyterians speaks out for ... 

“Re-Imagining Marriage, Gender & Confronting the Religious Violence of Defending Marriage”

More Light Presbyterians is wholeheartedly committed to spiritual, ordination and marriage equality. While we are fully engaged in the national ratification campaign for the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B which offers spiritual and ordination equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Presbyterians, achievements toward marriage equality are being made in civil society.

In recent days, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to approve legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry by a 186-179 vote and the Vermont State Senate voted 26-4 to approve pro-marriage equality legislation.

The Presbyterian Church (USA)'s long-standing commitments to non-discrimination in civil society based upon sexual orientation in addition to our long history of social justice should indeed instruct and inspire support for marriage equality in civil society and cause us to re-think a characterization of marriage between "a man and woman" that does not match God's creation.

In addition to sending Ordination Amendment 08-B for ratification, the 218th General Assembly commended the study of marriage. Marriage, from both a church and state perspective, is a faith conversation that merits much more thoughtful and faithful attention than simply declaring that "marriage is between a man and a woman." Defending that narrow understanding and proscription of marriage is an act of spiritual violence and civil injustice.

To help all of us understand that "defending marriage" does not advance thoughtful or faithful conversations about love, sexual ethics and marriage and it actually results in spiritual or religious violence, I recommend Professor Jon Pahl's recent article from the website of the University of Chicago's Divinity School. Click here for his article >>   Jon Pahl is Professor of the History of Christianity in North America at The Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.

Michael J. Adee, M.Div., Ph.D., Executive Director & Field Organizer
More Light Presbyterians
(505) 820-7082, ,

Why marriage matters    [2-18-09]

Leonard Pitts, Jr., a thoughtful columnist with the Miami Herald, reports a moving story of life and death for a lesbian couple.

The whole story >>

Biographical information on members of Civil Union/Christian Marriage Committee

13-member group mandated by 218th General Assembly

by Bethany Furkin, Presbyterian News Service


LOUISVILLE ― February 11, 2009 — The Office of the General Assembly has released biographical information on the 13 Presbyterians named yesterday (Feb. 5) to the General Assembly’s Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Unions and Christian Marriage.

Last summer’s 218th General Assembly directed Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow to “appoint a special committee, representing the broad diversity and theological balance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), to study the following … including any policy recommendations growing out of the study:

 •          The history of the laws governing marriage and civil union, including current policy debates;

•          How the theology and practice of marriage have developed in the Reformed and broader Christian tradition;

•          The relationship between civil union and Christian marriage;

•          The effects of current laws on same-gender partners and their children;

•          The place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.

The special committee is to make its report to the 219th General Assembly (2010) in Minneapolis. Committee members are:

The Rev. Clayton F. Allard: Allard is a member of National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. A Christian convert, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the College of Wooster in 1986 and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1989. While there, he was awarded the John Galloway Prize in Expository Preaching.

The Rev. Emily J. Anderson: Since 1999, Anderson has been pastor of New Providence Presbyterian Church in Maryville, TN. She is co-author of a confirmation curriculum based on the Study Catechism and was co-moderator of the Task Force on Priorities and Structures for the Presbytery of East Tennessee. Anderson has also served on the Committee on Ministry and Committee on Preparation in the Tampa Bay and East Tennessee presbyteries.

The Rev. Margaret Aymer Oget: Aymer is assistant professor of New Testament at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, which includes the PC(USA)-related Johnson C. Smith Seminary. A member of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, she serves on the Health Committee and the Committee for Preparation on Ministry. Aymer is the author of “First Pure, Then Peaceable: Frederick Douglass, Darkness and the Epistle of James” and “Repairers of the Breach,” a Bible study written for the 2006 PHEWA conference. In 2011, she will author the Horizons Bible Study on the Beatitudes.

Elder Luis Antonio (Tony) De La Rosa: De La Rosa is associate counsel for L.A. Health Care Plan. As a civil litigator, his career has focused on protecting the rights of traditionally disadvantaged people. He is also clerk of Session at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, a Spanish/English bilingual congregation in Los Angeles. On the national level, De La Rosa has been a member of the Advisory Committee on Litigation and the Special Committee on Church-wide Compensation Policy. He is a graduate of Yale Divinity and Law schools.

The Rev. Steve Hancock: Hancock has been pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, AR, since 2001. He has also served as pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN, and as dean of students and professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where he earned his M.Div. degree. He has also taught at St. Meinrad School of Theology and Vanderbilt Divinity School. He earned his Master of Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Note added 3-14-09:  

Earl B. Arnold named to committee on marriage and civil unions

The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008), also named a replacement to another special committee at work in response to an action by last summer's assembly: the Rev. Earl B. Arnold (Cayuga-Syracuse Presbytery) will fill the vacancy left by the resignation of the Rev. Steve Hancock (Arkansas Presbytery) on the General Assembly Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage.

Emily W. Miller: Miller is a third-year Master of Divinity student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. A 2005 graduate of Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, VA, she served as a Young Adult Volunteer with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Miami before entering seminary.

Elder Katina Miner: Miner works as an employment lawyer in San Francisco. A member of Mission Bay Community Church there, she serves as the church’s elder of administration and support. Miner is a native of Minneapolis and attended college in Chicago and law school at the University of California at Berkeley.

Elder Stephen L. Salyards: Salyards is an IT manager, earthquake geologist and adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. He attends La Verne Heights Presbyterian Church in La Verne, CA. Salyards has served San Gabriel Presbytery as a member and chair of the Committee on Ministry, as elder commissioner to the 209th General Assembly (1997) and as moderator of the presbytery. He is currently moderator of the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii.

The Rev. Tracie Mayes Stewart: Stewart earned her Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary-Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, VA, and was ordained in 1995. Her husband is also a Presbyterian minister, and she served as a new church development co-pastor with him until her children were born. She now works part-time in educational ministry and has written three Bible studies. Stewart served as a commissioner to the 212th General Assembly (2000).

The Rev. James (Jim) Szeyller, chair: Szeyller is pastor at Carmel Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Syeyller is particularly interested in using missional church theology as a tool for church revitalization and growth.

Rev. William (Bill) Teng: Teng is pastor at Heritage Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, VA. Born and raised in Hong Kong, he is a fourth-generation Presbyterian minister who has also served congregations in New York, Texas and Washington, DC. He is a member of the National Capital Presbytery Council and was moderator of National Capital Presbytery in 2004. Teng was a candidate for moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008).

Elder Lisa Cooper Van Riper: Van Riper is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC, where she has also served as a teacher, deacon, elder and member of the Pastor Search Committee. A graduate of Furman University and the University of South Carolina, Van Riper has career experience as a teacher, adjunct professor, staffer at Greenville County Council, interim director of Greenville YWCA and executive director of Putting Families First, a social service agency there.

Derrick Weston: Weston is the mission advancement manager for the Pittsburgh Project, an urban community development ministry in that city. He earned his Master of Divinity from San Francisco Theological Seminary and is a candidate for ministry in Pittsburgh Presbytery. He studied film at the University of Pittsburgh.

Do you have comments, questions, concerns?
Please send a note, to be shared here.

GA Moderator announces names for special committee to study civil union and Christian marriage

Committee of 13 will begin work in March

Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — February 4, 2009 — The Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has selected members for the General Assembly Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage.

Last summer’s General Assembly directed the Moderator to “appoint a special committee, representing the broad diversity and theological balance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), to study the following … including any policy recommendations growing out of the study:

 •          The history of the laws governing marriage and civil union, including current policy debates.

•          How the theology and practice of marriage have developed in the Reformed and broader Christian tradition.

•          The relationship between civil union and Christian marriage.

•          The effects of current laws on same-gender partners and their children.

•          The place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.

The special committee is to make its report to the 219th General Assembly (2010) next summer in Minneapolis.

Of the thirteen on the special committee, six are between the ages of 36-45, six are between 46 and 55, and one is older than 55.

Reyes-Chow used a video clip posted on his blog Tuesday evening in advance of today’s release to comment about the selection process to fill this and additional special committees that will be announced later this week.

In the clip, he explained that he had extended an “open invitation to submit names – promising to select people that I believed could bring passion, thought, intellect, experience, foresight and vision” to the task.

Reyes-Chow said, “Those who have been chosen have a deep commitment to the church, a deep love for Christ, and are seeking and yearning for a way to be church in new and discerning ways.”

He continued, “We owe our deepest gratitude to those who have accepted this calling – the privilege and responsibility of serving on task forces and study groups at the General Assembly level of our denomination.”

Named to the special committee are the Reverends Clayton F. Allard (Grace Presbytery), Emily J. Anderson (East Tennessee Presbytery), Margaret Aymer Oget (Greater Atlanta Presbytery), Steve Hancock (Arkansas Presbytery), Tracie Mayes Stewart (Salem Presbytery), James Szeyller (Charlotte Presbytery), and William Teng (National Capital Presbytery); and elders Luis Antonio De La Rosa (Pacific Presbytery), Katina Miner (San Francisco Presbytery), Stephen L. Salyards (San Gabriel Presbytery), and Lisa Cooper Van Riper (Foothills Presbytery). Emily W. Miller (Shenandoah Presbytery) and Derrick Weston (Pittsburgh Presbytery) will also serve as members.

Szeyller will serve as chairperson of the group.

Staffing the committee will be the Reverend David Gambrell, associate for worship, Theology Worship and Education (General Assembly Council), and the Reverend Vernon Broyles, volunteer in mission, Office of the General Assembly.

We welcome your comments about this study!
Just send a note,
to be shared here.

Newsweek attacked from the Right for its cover story on marriage equality     [12-13-08]

More Light Presbyterians urges that we let them hear other voices:

Please do take a moment to send a note to Newsweek thanking them for the marriage equality cover story.

Sadly, Newsweek is being bombarded right now by anti-gay extremist religious voices. After the narrow anti-gay, unjust victory in California with Prop-8, anti-gay people seem to be flexing their muscles once again and behaving like school-yard bullies.

If we, the progressive faith voices do not speak up and are not heard, the extreme anti-gay religious voices will dominate the conversation and continue to be bullies.

No more bullies, just more light and more love!

To speak out and send an email go to



Michael J. Adee, M.Div., Ph.D.
Executive Director & Field Organizer
More Light Presbyterians
369 Montezuma Avenue # 447, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 USA

(505) 820-7082,

Newsweek on Gay Marriage    [12-8-08]

John Shuck offered this good summary of articles from the latest Newsweek:

Make sure you check the latest issue of Newsweek. The cover story is about gay marriage and the Bible, Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy:
Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.

Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion," says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so. (Read More)

A comment on this Newsweek article:
[added 12-15-08]

In Newsweek’s article on gay marriage, “Our Mutual Joy,” the author begins with a passage that helpfully points out the various patterns of “marriage” found in the Bible. But the comment about Jesus who “preached an indifference to earthly attachments – especially family” is unfortunately shallow. One needs only ponder the family values inherent in Jesus’ parable of the Father’s Love (usually known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son or the Two Lost Sons) or reflect on what Jesus had to say to his mother and to a disciple while he hung from the cross: "Here is your son" and "Here is your mother." Jesus was anything but indifferent to these “earthly attachments.”

The argument in the article would have been better served if a sentence later on could have been worked into the opening paragraph – “He preached a radical kind of family, a caring community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties. Leave your families and follow me, Jesus says in the gospels.”

Later the article states: “The great Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, emeritus professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, quotes the apostle Paul when he looks for biblical support of gay marriage: ‘There is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.’ ”

The article concludes with another reference to Jesus, as found in the words of a priest, who “believes that if Jesus were alive today, he would reach out especially to the gays and lesbians among us, for ‘Jesus does not want people to be lonely and sad.’ ” I say a hearty “Amen!” to that.

Len Bjorkman

The author of this comment is a Presbyterian minister, honorably retired, living in Owego, New York. He is a Witherspoon member, and a long-time leader in the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

You will want to check other articles in this week's issue and in past issues:

  1. A Gay Marriage Surge: Public Support Grows According to the New Newsweek Poll
  2. And Anna Quindlen's editorial: The Same People
  3. Miller v. Jenkins: One Gay Couple's Custody Battle
  4. Photo Gallery: A Changing Tide
  5. Why I Got Married Before California's Prop 8 Vote
  6. Long Invisible: Gay Seniors Seek Respect, Services
  7. How My Same-Sex Wedding Made Me an Activist

Also see these videos as well: Is Gay the New Black? and From Stonewall to Prop 8.

Thank you, Newsweek!!

And thank you, John!

Rabbi Arthur Waskow on

Newsweek, Same-Sex Marriage, & Torah


Thanks to Jim Green for suggesting that we add this to the discussion of the Newsweek article.

Same-Sex Marriage and the Evolving Bible

Newsweek magazine recently published a cover article endorsing same-sex marriage. The article caused a storm. I think the article could have taken the same bottom-line position, and yet imaginably have stirred a lot more thought and maybe even a little less explosion. Here is why:

Preparing for the article, a Newsweek reporter interviewed me at considerable length about my theology of same-sex marriage. Then she called back to say her boss had said to ask me whether I thought Judaism should be inclusive toward gays. I answered yes, and then that pretty simple-minded question and response were how I got quoted in the cover article.

Nothing about how I view the biblical proscription of male homosexuality, and why I think the oft-quoted lines in the Hebrew Bible are no longer God's will – and how the Torah seeks to transcend itself on several dimensions of sexual ethics. If my experience was replicated by others, no wonder opponents of same-sex marriage thought the article ignored the serious religious issues. It did. 

What I did answer was that at the initial human level, the more anyone gets to know gay and lesbian couples, the clearer it is that they live as holy or sometimes unholy lives as different-sex couples, and their relationships are just as worthy of spiritual affirmation and celebration. So of course it is important, not only for the sake of Jewish peoplehood or the Christian church or the Muslim umma to be "inclusive" toward them, but also important for God's sake – literally.

Then those who are religiously committed and who honor the Torah (whether Jews, Christians, or Muslims) find a sticking point in its text. And that is when a serious theological analysis becomes necessary.

So this is the analysis I laid out, which the original reporter thought very exciting – but not a hint of which appeared in the article:

The Biblical prohibition of same-sex sexual relationships is rooted in three basic rules the Hebrew Bible prescribes for proper sexual ethics:

 (1) Have as many children as possible. (Gen. 1:28: "Be fruitful, multiply, fill up the earth, and subdue it.");

 (2) Men should rule over women (Genesis 3:16, where God says to Eve, "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you") ; and

 (3) Sex is delightful and sacred (Song of Songs, throughout). Celibacy was strongly discouraged.

But these rules were not set in stone forever. Indeed, the Hebrew Bible itself encourages and implores us to transcend and transform the first two of these "rules" – and thereby sets the stage for an evolving religious tradition that celebrates same-sex marriage for those whose sexual orientation makes that the joyful and sacred alternative.

Twice in the Torah, we are told, "You shall not lie with a man as in lying with a woman." (Lev. 18: 22 and 20: 13).

Some have argued these verses prohibit all male-male sexuality. Others have argued that the verse must mean something else, for this "lying with" seems anatomically impossible. Is it only about casual or ritual homosexuality, not committed relationships? How did some of the greatest rabbis of the "Golden Age" in Spain write glowing erotic poems about male-male sex?

But let us go beyond these historical or midrashic questions, to look more deeply into Torah. Does Torah anticipate – even intend – its own transformation? If so, under what circumstances?

Let us learn from a passage of Talmud (Baba Kama 79b) that cautions against raising goats and sheep in the Land of Israel. Since our Biblical forebears did precisely that, how could the Talmud have the chutzpah to oppose it? The Rabbis knew that since great and growing numbers of humans were raising goats and sheep there, these flocks would denude and ruin the Land. The world had changed, and so did Jewish holy practice.

Let us look at the Bible's three basic rules of sexual ethics. "Be fruitful and multiply" worked against homosexuality, but what shall we do today, when the Earth is so "filled" with human beings that the whole web of life is at risk, and so "subdued" by human technology that the world-wide climate is in crisis? Like the rabbis who wisely warned against raising goats, today should we be encouraging, not forbidding, sexuality that avoids biological multiplication? We might read the precept to be fruitful and expansive emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually rather than arithmetically and biologically.

The rule that a man must rule over a woman left no room for a relationship of two men. Which should rule over the other "as with a woman"? Two "dominant" men trying to have an intimate relationship would overload the computer circuits and shatter the relationship. Two "subordinate" women, however, would not even turn on the computer – and indeed, the Hebrew Bible is uninterested in what we would call lesbian relationships.

Is the rule of male dominance intended by Torah to persist forever? No more than the twin statement (Gen. 3: 17-19) that men shall "toil in the sweat of their brow," wringing a livelihood from a hostile earth. We do not act as if Torah commands us to eschew the tools that ease our labor. Instead, we seek to shape a world in which work is far less toilsome.

These statements about toil, fruitfulness, and male dominance are not edicts to be obeyed but a map of post-Edenic history, to be transcended and transformed.

Through the deeds of human history, God has shaped the modernity that eases our work, makes women and men more nearly equal, and brings the human race to fill up and subdue the earth. So now we must ask ourselves, as the Talmud asked, what must we change in our new world?

In a world already filled and subdued by the human race, Rule 1, that we must multiply our numbers, may actually contravene God's intention.

In a world where Rule 2, that men must dominate women, has been transcended so that men and women can be equal, one man can lie with another "as with a woman" without disaster.

The third basic rule – that sex is delightful and sacred – still stands. The Song of Songs embodies it. The Song points both beyond the childish Eden of the past and beyond the sad history that followed Eden; it points to "Eden for grown-ups." In the Song, bodies are no longer shameful, as they became after the mistake of Eden; the earth is playful, not our enemy; and women and men are equal in desire and in power.

Though the Song is on its face heterosexual in the love it speaks of, it describes the kind of sensual pleasure beyond the rules of marriage and family that has characterized some aspects of gay and lesbian desire. Today we can dissolve the walls that have separated sensually pleasurable homosexual relationships from rule-bound heterosexual marriage. We can instead encourage playful marriages suffused with joy and pleasure – for a man and woman, for two men, for two women.

At the Burning Bush, confronting the narrow-minded rules of the Pharaoh of "Mitzrayyim" (the Hebrew word for Egypt actually means "the strait and narrow"), God took on the name "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh." "Ehyeh" is the future tense, "I Will Be," so it would seem reasonable to understand this Name as "I Will Be Who I Will Be" -- God is Becoming. Yet it was translated by the King James Version of the Bible in the present tense, ""I Will Be Who I Will Be."

Given the nature of time and grammatical tense in biblical Hebrew, is the present tense a possible translation? In grammatical theory, yes. But look at the context of what is happening at the Burning Bush. Moses wants to confront Pharaoh and his own people with a NAME OF GOD – that is, an understanding of reality – that will make change possible. A Pharaoh who is committed to the status quo and people who have been in slavery for hundreds of years will not be shaken or transformed by invoking a God Who is unchanging, let alone the "God of their fathers." They need an understanding of the universe that says that at its very root, it beckons transformation.

Try thinking about the Torah as not only a living wisdom for the future but an echo of real life from the past – try to understand it as a breathing crystallization of the lives of the people. THAT is why at the Burning Bush moment the future tense is crucial, just as earlier – when the issue was fruitfulness and procreation for the troubled clan of Abraham, down to Joseph, it was crucial for God to be El Shaddai – the God of Breasts, the Nurturing God.

The future tense – Becoming – is what we need today. Instead of rigidly defending marriage as it used to be, we can honor the God Who Becomes by expanding the circles in which marriage – a new kind of marriage – becomes possible. 

Shalom, salaam, peace – Arthur



One of my books – Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life – addresses the issues of sexual ethics in depth. It is available from The Shalom Center.


The author:

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., founded (in 1983) and directs The Shalom Center , a prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life that brings Jewish and other spiritual thought and practice to bear on seeking peace, pursuing justice, healing the earth, and celebrating community.

The General Assembly Finally Got it Right:

Top Ten Questions about the Fidelity/Chastity Standard from a Single Presbyterian


by C. K. Walter

At the biannual meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) held in San Jose, June 21-28, attention again was directed at section G-6.0106b of the Book of Order. This clause is the now-familiar clause requiring members ordained as pastors, elders and deacons to live “either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness." After 12 years of in-fighting, the G.A. voted to recommend that the current wording be replaced by wording not associated with sexual conduct. The “fidelity in marriage” part is non-controversial; it has long been part of the marriage vows, so its inclusion in G-6.0106b was redundant from the start. Without a doubt, discussion has centered on the interpretation of “chastity in singleness” in the ordination of homosexuals. However, this clause raises – or should have raised, but did not – more questions among all unmarried Presbyterians. If the answers to these questions are “no,” then single people especially should thank the G.A. for providing a means to conclude this debate to nowhere. The next step will be to campaign for ratification among the 173 Presbyteries as they vote to change or not change the constitution.

1. Are single people chaste? Of course not, as the framers of G-6.0106b would have learned from anyone who has kept current on social mores. Sexual activity begins at an earlier age today than 50 years ago. One published survey of 15,000 high school students reported that 47 percent have had sex. "Family Focus" writer Sandy Hoenig noted, "One of the biggest changes that has developed is the decrease in age of those becoming sexually active." Carolyn Hax, advice columnist for the under 30 crowd, says, "Most adults aren't each other's first stop." "Dear Abby" advised the grandparents of an out-of-wedlock child that "it's time to face the fact that a sizable number of younger people feel differently today" about the necessity of marriage before having children. As Abby advised about a personal problem, "This is the 21st century – not the 1940s." Supporters of G-6.0106b would have learned these not-so-surprising facts had they asked their adult offspring or grandchildren if they had been chaste throughout their unmarried lives (although many would have heard, "Mind your own business, Grandpa").

2. Would prospective members who have not been chaste while single still join the Presbyterian Church after being told they were not qualified to serve as elders or deacons? Some denominations (such as those based in Rome and Salt Lake City) specify personal attributes (such as gender) that disqualify particular members from leadership positions. Although some women still join those churches, how many others opt out because they are excluded from full participation? Rather than act as minimum standards for leadership, the net result of restrictions like G-6.0106b is to reduce membership in Presbyterian churches. While mainline church membership is falling, maintaining policies that exacerbate this trend is questionable leadership indeed.

3. Does being chaste while single prepare a person for participating in church leadership? The PC(USA) membership may have concluded that it does, but the experience of the Roman Catholic church certainly provides room for doubt. Quite possibly the opposite is true: the principle of chastity may have led to inappropriate sexual responses by some priests. Writer Steve Gushee’s report on the shortage of Catholic clergy called celibacy "the elephant in every clerical living room." He noted that celibacy was added as a requirement after the time of St. Peter and other early married priests to prevent their children from inheriting property that otherwise would remain with the church. At the very least, the PC(USA)'s specifying this criterion for ordination was out of step with the times.

4. Has G-6.0106b increased the willingness of church members to become ministers, deacons, and elders? National statistics show decreased enrollment at theological seminaries, along with lower graduation rates. While many changes within the church, in addition to the “chastity in singleness” clause, are reflected by these decreases, the unmistakable conclusion is that fewer people are choosing to become professional church leaders. The task of church nominating committees, who recruit local members for the positions of deacons and elders (the lay leaders in each Presbyterian Church), is likewise made more difficult as they tip-toe around the chastity standard when interviewing unmarried candidates. It may be the Presbyterian equivalent of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

5. Did the PC(USA) include a process for implementing item G-6.0106b for church members considering calls to become deacons, elders or pastors? No, but one avenue for asking about their "chastity in singleness" status already exists for pastors, who submit periodic reports reviewing their calling to the ministry and their career progression. This form would seem a logical place to add a question asking, "Do you re-affirm that you have been chaste while single?" (The same form could ask married pastors if they have remained faithful, although that portion of G-6.0106b has received scant attention.) While questionnaires for deacons and elders have not been required by nominating committees, the "time and talent" surveys used by many churches might be expanded by similar questions. "Exaggeration!" you say? But without some formal means of application, this policy statement moves from a clear-cut requirement to ineffectual verbiage.

6. Has PC(USA) created "chastity in singleness" as a new commandment to replace "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18)? The latter, familiar to the early Christians, had been called both the "whole law" (according to Paul in Galatians 5:13) and the second great commandment (Christ, in Matthew 22:39). The same challenge can be posed about "chastity" vs. the golden rule ("do unto others," Matthew 7:12) or the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), neither of which are treated as qualifiers for church participation. The conservative Presbyterian Layman gave G-6.0106b scriptural status as “biblical ordination standards” (March/April 1998).

7. Does G-6.0106b protect the Presbyterian Church from the headlines? You know the ones:

"Ex-altar boy alleges sex abuse by priests"

"Defrocked priest convicted in sex-abuse case"

"Report: 1,000 likely abused in Boston archdiocese"

"Catholic Church releases study of sex abuse by priests."

Lest you think that the priest and alter boy charges had a monopoly on headlines, consider these:

"Sexual abuse by clergy leaves greater damage, experts say"

"Reports slam church"

"Church's battles just beginning"

No churches – including Presbyterian – are safe from negative publicity over sexual indiscretions by their leaders.  While the more generic headlines may not identify specific denominations, they do lead to a broader lack of respect for Christian churches in general. Presbyterians would suffer similar embarrassment and financial liabilities if even a miniscule percentage of thousands of pastors, deacons and elders abused fellow members, especially children. To put the question another way, is G-6.0106b clearer and more effective than existing civil laws at restraining sexual contacts between church leaders and impressionable or vulnerable members? Since G-6.0106b does not define a civil crime, it would appear not to shield the PC(USA) from any liability whatsoever. If the writers of G-6.0106b had foreseen the media picnic to be generated by the surfacing of disturbed priests' peccadilloes, they might even have expanded the ordination standards to require clergy, elders and deacons to maintain professional decorum at all times, with a disclaimer that the PC(USA) will not pay legal fees incurred by those who let their judgment lapse. Fortunately, the organization and programs of Presbyterian churches do not place their ordained leaders in many one-on-one situations with juveniles, although there can be counseling sessions that may occur with individuals of any age and of either sex. Insurance companies require churches (of all denominations) to have strict policies about training of adults (e.g., Sunday School teachers) who work with youth. While additional liability shielding may be desirable among Presbyterian churches and their regional and national offices, G-6.0106b did not offer that protection.

8. Did G-6.0106b solve the "homosexual problem"? Question 7 arose from the "priest and altar boy" situation, that is, same-sex abuse (although lawsuits by two sisters against a priest and by victims of abuse by nuns show conclusively that violations can be heterosexual, as well). Statistically, there is no homosexual problem in Presbyterian Church governance because the democratic process of voting is used. Since over 97% of adults are heterosexual (according to a University of Chicago study), it is difficult indeed to imagine a church issue that would pit straights against gays and be decided by the minority. Of course the statistics also suggest that an organization of 2 million-plus people will have somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 non-heterosexuals, a number that can form a strong political voice. But like red hair vs. blonde or dark skin vs. white, these differences in personal attributes will continue to exist, whether the church welcomes all people or not. And therein is the "homosexual problem" of the PC(USA): its leaders in presbyteries voted, by their past support of G-6.0106b, to show that they did not welcome all their neighbors into their supposedly Christian churches.

9. Did G-6.0106 provide forgiveness to wayward singles who marry? G-6.0106b concludes with, "Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, ministers of the Word and Sacrament." Perhaps the framers considered that “repenting” was the moral equivalent of "forsaking all others" (in the marriage vows), so formerly unqualified singles would become qualified to serve. More likely, the process was not considered, a scenario leading to the final question.

10. Was PC(USA) concerned about singles at all? Apparently not, but, given that nearly 45% of U.S. adults 20 and over are single (about 16 times the proportion of homosexuals), the denomination should have been quite concerned. Many of us are still, or again, looking for a loving relationship and some will eventually get married (or remarried). Others may not marry, for reasons better understood by the individuals concerned. Will these unmarried individuals feel welcome as Presbyterian members or potential leaders, knowing that G-6.0106b could invoke an examination into their private lives?


Asking these ten questions (and answering “no” to each) was my invitation to Presbyterians to support the General Assembly’s initiative to remove the current language of G-6.0106b. The PC(USA) leaders must recognize that society has drifted away from "wait until marriage." That is, many contemporary adult relationships do include some level of physical intimacy, and they do not all lead to the altar. But the current wording of G-6.0106b leads me to infer that we very normal singles are labeled as the equivalents of rogues and harlots because we are not married. If it is not a fair interpretation to say that the Fidelity/Chastity clause is a denigration of singles, then I would call it insincere at best. 

Why insincere? Because chastity among singles was not at all the issue of G-6.0106b, but, rather, a seemingly convenient tactic to address any “homosexual problem” while avoiding the politically incorrect label of homophobia. The press saw through that clever subterfuge, with headlines like "Presbyterian group retains ban on gays" (referring to an earlier defeat of a replacement amendment) giving the General Assembly a public pillorying. Other attempts to compromise the divisive wording – through “authoritative interpretation” or labels such as “non-essential”--have been called “an end run around the Constitution” without changing it.  

            There is biblical precedent for challenging church strictures, such as the Presbyterian constitution. According to former priest and newspaper reporter Tom Carney, "Jesus saved his harshest words for some of the leaders of his own religion because he saw them as arrogant and self-righteous." More recently, former President Jimmy Carter cut his ties to the Southern Baptist Convention over its "increasingly rigid creed" which barred female pastors. Carter explained, "I personally feel the Bible says all people are equal in the eyes of God." Author and preacher Chris Glaser cautioned, "The threat to the church is the exclusive position, which is contrary to the teachings of Jesus, who reached out to people who were excluded." Especially important to Jesus were singles, according to Vanderbilt University Professor of New Testament studies, Amy-Jill Levine, who noted that he seldom spoke to couples. She believes that Jesus "would be in the singles ministry now." Imagine what He would say about the current G-6.0106b and how it makes singles feel unwelcome to join, unwilling to lead, and less than eager to serve. He might even support removing it.

The author:

C. K. Walter is a college professor who lives in Iowa with his two Dachshunds. He describes himself as "a young 66."

On same-gender marriage:

Consider “The Loving Decision”

Although same-sex marriage was rejected again by California voters, Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen sees great hope in the Loving vs. Virginia decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967, which unanimously affirmed that "Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man." This decision (with its wonderful title) essentially denied states the right to outlaw “miscegenation,” or inter-racial marriage.

The passage of same-sex marriage bans in three states on Nov. 4 is certainly a set-back, she says, but, she says, “The world only spins forward.” And we are moving inevitably to the time when that movement will take us to the recognition that marriage is a good and a right for all people.

Her article >>

Marriage ... has never been set in stone

David Booth, who is an associate professor of religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, offers a quick survey of some of the varieties of forms of “marriage” over the centuries. Some of his examples:

The patriarchs of ancient Israel had complex households with multiple wives, and they begot children by their wives' servants as well as by their wives. Many early Christians shunned marriage altogether ... Among social elites throughout history, most marriages were arrangements between families, designed to manage inheritance, control of land and political power. In the high middle ages, marriage was often loveless, while adulterous "romantic love" was celebrated in song and poetry. Many Victorian marriages were nearly sex-free because of the influence of an ideology of feminine purity. For centuries a husband had unrestricted legal access to his wife's body ...

More recently, “The challenge to recognize interracial marriages was another traumatic change in the form of marriage.”

He concludes:

Defenders of "traditional" marriage have had electoral success. But the institution they defend is neither so natural nor so permanent as they imagine. The evolving form of marriage is always telling the story about what people in a given time and place value and what they don't. What basic social values are we defending by excluding gay people from the sustenance of marriage? As this discussion continues we will all need to decide whether our society values love, faithfulness and stability for everyone – or just for straight people.

The full opinion column, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune >>


GA actions ratified (or not) by  the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly have now been acted upon by the presbyteries, confirming most of them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We provided resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest have been:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which  removes the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.  Approved!

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.  Disapproved, because as an amendment to the Book of Confessions it needed a 2/3 vote, and did not receive that.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which  adopts the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.   Approved.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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