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Presbyterians Nix Gay Ceremonies

July 1, 2000

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) _ The chief policy-making body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted by a narrow margin Friday to recommend barring its ministers from officiating at commitment ceremonies for gay couples.

The measure still must be ratified by ministers and elders at congregations nationwide before it can become part of the Book of Order, the constitution for the 2.6 million-member denomination.

It passed the church’s General Assembly by a vote of 268-251, with four abstentions.

The ministers and elders have one year to decide on their vote. If they approve, the ban would be put into effect at next year’s meeting of the General Assembly.

A similar ban on gay commitment ceremonies was approved the church’s General Assembly in 1995 but failed to win ratification.

No state has officially legalized gay marriage, but a new Vermont law legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples takes effect on Saturday, and other states have debated similar laws.

A month ago, the church’s highest court ruled that local congregations may conduct such religious ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions as long as those ceremonies stop short of marriage.

But the amendment approved Friday night, if ratified, would overpower that ruling by prohibiting church officers from performing gay commitment ceremonies and barring such ceremonies from church property.

Debate on the issue has dominated the annual convention this week, and it has placed the denomination at a crossroads over homosexuality.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) prohibits homosexuals from serving as ministers but does not exclude homosexuals from the church.

Gay activists said that if Presbyterians allowed gay commitment ceremonies, other Christian denominations would feel pressure to include homosexuals in more aspects of their faith. The activists also said predominantly homosexual Presbyterian congregations could disappear if recognition of their relationships were prohibited.

Proponents of the ban argued that the Presbyterian Church must stop blessing same-sex unions because that implicitly condones homosexual behavior, which the church views as a sin.

Other supporters of the ban said that recognizing gay couples could cripple the church’s missionary work in countries with conservative values.

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On the Net:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): http://www.pcusa.org

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