PCUSA court clears cleric in gay marriage case

February 9, 2011

The top court of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has found a Boston
minister not guilty of violating church rules against performing gay
marriages. The narrow ruling keeps the churchwide ban in place.

PCUSA's Permanent Judicial Commission on February 2 cleared Jean
Southard of charges that she violated church rules and her ordination
vows by marrying two women in 2008 in Massa­chusetts, where gay marriage
is legal.

The wedding took place before the PCUSA had determined,
later in 2008, that the ban on same-sex marriage is "mandatory" for
ministers, the 16-member court ruled. The court said that the rule
should not be applied retroactively to Southard's case.

Clergy in
the PCUSA, which has about 2.2 million members, are allowed to bless
same-sex relationships but are not permitted to "state, imply, or
represent" those ceremonies as marriages. A regional church court in
California found a minister guilty of that offense late last year.

members of the church's high court issued a concurring opinion arguing
that the denomination should lift its ban on gay marriages because it
marginalizes gay, lesbian and bisexual people. In a separate concurring
opinion, three court members said Southard should have consulted with
church officials before officiating at the same-sex ceremony.

said in a statement, "I am saddened that this verdict does not make it
possible for ministers to do the good and loving thing for their
parishioners without the fear that someone will accuse them of violating
church law."  —RNS