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Year Later, No Lesbian Wedding Flap

January 16, 2000

SACRAMENTO, Calif.(AP) _ A lesbian couple who survived fears of clerical retribution celebrated their first anniversary in a ceremony that was part down-home revival, part joyous homecoming and part uncertain look to the future.

``We asked people who came last year to come back. This time, it is really just a party, a way of saying, ’We’re still here,‴ said the Rev. Donald Fado of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church of Sacramento.

About 500 people on Saturday honored Ellie Charlton, 64, and Jeanne Barnett, 69, who were married last year in ceremonies led by Fado. The women, both church leaders, were supported by dozens of members of the Methodist clergy.

The couple came forward after Fado, who is married and has four children, told his congregation that he wanted to protest church policy by publicly blessing a same-sex union. The Methodist Judicial Council had previously ruled that a minister could be removed for violating the ban on homosexual weddings.

Fado, who could face a church trial, so far has not been disciplined, and the two women remain church leaders.

A year ago, 1,500 people attended the wedding while protesters marched outside. But this weekend, the atmosphere was far more relaxed.

Folding chairs were scattered across the floor; bunting, posters and cards signed by well-wishers covered the walls; and spectators were treated to thunderous organ music and a choir.

No one protested.

``We’re close friends with Jeanne and Ellie, and we came to express our solidarity and love,″ said Jim Strathdee of Sacramento.

Barnett, a retired state unemployment administrator and lay leader of the Methodists’ Nevada-California Conference, and Charlton, a divorced great-grandmother and trustee of the conference, sat quietly with family members and friends, rising to join in the singing or to hug friends.

Charlton spoke briefly, thanking the attendees and Fado for ``setting an example for our gay community.″ Her daughter and granddaughter jointly recited a poem.

``It is an honor to call you ’grandma,‴ said Bobbie Charlton.

Fado passed the hat and raised $6,700, some of which will be given to a campaign to defeat Proposition 22 on the March 7 ballot. The initiative would ban gay marriages in California.

The January 1999 wedding prompted a fact-finding review by a church committee scheduled to meet next month. The committee is expected to submit its findings to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which meets in Cleveland in May.

The conference is the church’s international governing body. About 600 conferees from the United States and overseas are expected to attend the event, which is held once every four years.

``Rev. Fado is not following our book of discipline. We are not out of line; he is out of line. The discipline now says that no pastor shall have a same-sex covenant,″ said Rev. John Sheppard II of the United Methodist Church of Yuba City, about 40 miles north of Sacramento.

Sheppard said Fado has support from the majority of ministers in the California-Nevada Conference. However, the sentiment is sharply opposed to same-sex unions internationally.

Sixty-eight members of the Methodist clergy listed themselves as co-officiants of the wedding, and never before have so many ministers faced the possibility of a charge of disobedience. In the past, two Methodist ministers have been disciplined for officiating at same-sex weddings.

Fado said the issue of same-sex marriage is critical to many church members and needs to be addressed by the church hierarchy.

``We are a healthier church if we include different cultural perspectives, if we offer different latitudes for the expressions of the group,″ he said. ``We may not think alike but we can love alike.″

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