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PCUSA Lesbian Activist to Stand Trial for Conducting Same-sex Weddings

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    If convicted by PJC, Jane Spahr could be removed from ministry Lesbian Activist to Stand Trial for Conducting Same-sex Weddings Feb. 6, 2006 by Evan
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 6, 2006
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      If convicted by PJC, Jane Spahr could be removed from ministry

      Lesbian Activist to Stand Trial for Conducting Same-sex Weddings
      Feb. 6, 2006
      by Evan Silverstein
      PCUSA News Service

      LOUISVILLE - The Rev. Jane Adams Spahr, a Presbyterian lesbian
      activist, will go on trial in California on March 2 for allegedly
      performing two same-sex marriage services.

      If found guilty by the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) of Redwoods
      Presbytery, Spahr could be removed from the ministry. The constitution
      of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) specifically states that marriage
      is a covenant only between a man and a woman.

      The trial will start at 10 a.m. at the Presbyterian Church of the
      Roses in Santa Rosa, CA.

      Spahr, 63, a resident of San Rafael, CA, is director of That All May
      Freely Serve (TAMFS), which works for the full inclusion of lesbian,
      gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) Presbyterians in the life of
      the church, including ordination as officers.

      "I'm just grateful that people will hear about our love and to move
      beyond stereotypes or mythology about who we are," Spahr told The
      Presbyterian News Service. "I'm just grateful for the church to see us
      as folks like anyone else who has dreams and love and partnership."

      Spahr was originally charged in connection with co-officiating at a
      February 2004 wedding in Ontario, Canada, of two men from New York state.

      A trial was scheduled for April 2005 but was delayed because of
      extensive legal negotiations.

      Now Redwoods Presbytery, based in Napa, CA, has dropped the original
      charge concerning the gay men and amended the complaint to charge
      Spahr with marrying two lesbian couples.

      She allegedly married the first couple, Constance Rose Valois and
      Barbara Jean Allender Douglass, on Aug. 21, 2004, in Rochester, NY.

      Those two women are affiliated with a Presbyterian church in
      Rochester, but are inactive as a protest against the PC(USA)'s ban
      against marrying and ordaining LGBT members, according to Spahr's
      lawyer, Sara Taylor of San Francisco.

      Spahr allegedly married the other couple, Annie Senechal and Cherrill
      Figuera, on May 27, 2005, near Gerneville, CA, about 65 miles north of
      San Francisco. Neither woman is Presbyterian, Taylor said.

      "What she (Spahr) has elected to do is assert her right of private
      conscience, which each individual has," Taylor said. "So, acting in
      conscience, she's gone ahead and married these people. I think that
      this church and this presbytery is going to have to establish whether
      this (the ban on same-sex marriage) is an 'essential' to the church,
      because people are permitted to act and to believe according to their
      conscience in matters that are ... non-essential."

      The presbytery's prosecuting committee asked that the facts of the
      case be amended because, while Spahr co-officiated at the men's
      wedding, it was not clear whether she had actually pronounced them
      married, according to Stephen Taber, the presbytery's lawyer.

      Spahr did not sign the marriage certificate. She is not licensed to
      perform weddings in Ontario.

      "We believed, based on the facts as we discovered them, that it could
      not be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that she had actually performed
      a wedding in violation of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church
      (U.S.A.)," said Taber, of San Francisco.

      "Prohibition, in our view, is a prohibition against 'performing' a
      same-sex marriage, not a prohibition against 'attending' a same-sex
      marriage ceremony," he said.

      When Spahr was asked about the change in the complaint, she said she
      was pleased that there would be no ambiguity about the legality of
      performing same-gender weddings.

      "As long as we get to the heart of the matter about couples who love
      one another, and if they choose to be married," she said.

      The current case alleges that Spahr, a member of Redwoods Presbytery
      for more than a quarter-century, violated her ordination vows and the
      PC(USA) Constitution by performing same-sex marriages.

      The highest Presbyterian court, the Permanent Judicial Commission of
      the General Assembly, ruled in 2000 that ministers may bless same-sex
      unions, but cannot confuse or equate them with marriage.

      Spahr will be tried before the PJC, an elected, seven-member court in
      Redwoods Presbytery. The commission will consider four possible
      censures: rebuke, rebuke with rehabilitation, temporary removal from
      the church, or permanent removal from church office or membership.

      Taylor said that Spahr would appeal any reprimand - even a rebuke, the
      mildest censure.

      An investigating committee filed the charge with the presbytery PJC
      after Spahr's participation in the same-sex wedding of the men was
      brought to the attention of the regional governing body last March, in
      an email sent by the Rev. James Berkley, a member of Seattle
      Presbytery who at the time was the Issues Ministry Director for
      Presbyterians for Renewal, a conservative renewal group that opposes
      the ordination of gays and lesbians.

      Spahr was called in 1991 as co-pastor of Downtown United Presbyterian
      Church in Rochester, but that call was invalidated by the General
      Assembly PJC in November 1992.

      Even without a call, the Rochester church in 1993 invited her to serve
      as a "lesbian evangelist" and established That All May Freely Serve to
      support her ministry, in partnership with Westminster Presbyterian
      Church in Tiburon, CA.

      Since then, Spahr has traveled the country mustering support for the
      ordination of gay and lesbian Presbyterians and building a network of
      regional groups to help in the effort.

      She is one of at least two Presbyterian ministers in recent years to
      face charges for marrying same-sex couples.

      The Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken, a former pastor of the Mount Auburn
      Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, OH, lost his job and membership in
      the church when the Presbytery of Cincinnati overwhelmingly voted to
      remove him on June 16, 2003.

      Van Kuiken appealed the decision to the PJC of the Synod of the
      Covenant, which ruled in February that the presbytery erred in
      removing him while he was appealing a previous presbytery decision.
      However, he never applied for reinstatement.
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