Court’s punishment for lesbian Presbyterian minister was lightest
possible; Spahr plans to retire by end of month
SAN FRANCISCO A Presbyterian minister has been found guilty of violating church law for officiating at the weddings of two lesbian couples, but she was given the lightest possible punishment, church and defense lawyers said Friday, Aug. 24.
A regional judicial committee of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ruled 6-2 that while the Rev. Jane Spahr of San Rafael “acted with conscience and conviction,” her actions were still at odds with the church’s constitution, her defense team said in a news release.
The court gave Spahr the mildest penalty it could have a rebuke which amounts to a warning not to repeat the violation. She could have been removed from ministry.
The ruling, delivered late on Aug. 23 to lawyers for Spahr and the denomination, reversed a lower church court’s decision in March 2006 that found Spahr acted within her rights as an ordained minister when she married the couples in 2004 and 2005.
Spahr was the first minister of her denomination to be tried for officiating at the weddings of gay couples.
The top Presbyterian Court ruled in 2000 that ministers can bless same-sex unions as long as the ceremonies are not called a marriage and don’t mimic traditional weddings.
Spahr, who will retire at the end of this month, plans to appeal.
“My gut reaction was, “‘Oh no, no,’” said Spahr, who came out as a lesbian three decades ago. She said she wants the church “not to tolerate us, but to accept us.”
The initial complaint was brought by a minister from Bellevue, Washington, in the Presbytery of the Redwoods, which oversees 52 Pacific Coast churches from Marin County to the Oregon border.
The Rev. Robert Conover, head of the Redwoods Presbytery, said the ruling underscores the disunity within the church on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“This in no way can be characterized as a victory,” said Conover, “but simply as an ongoing display of the deep difference of opinion on matters of faith and practice.”
Many Protestant denominations are divided over how they should interpret what the Bible says about homosexuality. In the Presbyterian Church, several theologically conservative congregations have announced plans to break away from the denomination over the last year.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 31, 2007