In a May 24 ruling, the highest court of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said congregations and presbyteries can bless same-sex unions as long as they aren't equated with Christian marriage.
"The Judicial Commission held that the presbytery was in order in permitting sessions and ministers to participate in services of blessing as long as these were clearly not considered or easily confused with marriage ceremonies," said Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk, and Freda Gardner, moderator of this year's General Assembly, in a pastoral letter announcing the decision.
The court agreed with some New York congregations that same-sex unions may be conducted because the denomination's Book of Order doesn't explicitly prohibit them. It also ruled the church's ban on gay clergy applies only to ordained ministers, not clergy candidates. The church delayed until early July a decision on whether a Vermont church may request exemption from church standards that require leaders to practice "fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness."
The decisions don't carry the weight of church law. But the issue will come up again at the General Assembly, June 24-July 1 (after presstime). The assembly will be asked to vote on whether the church should issue a blanket prohibition against same-sex unions.
Soulforce, an ecumenical group promoting greater acceptance of gays and lesbians within church life, plans to demonstrate at the General Assembly. Soulforce led a demonstration at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Cleveland in May.
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