Presbyterian Minister Charged With Breaking Church Law for Performing Gay Marriage

A Presbyterian minister has been charged with breaking church law for performing a marriage between two women.

Janet Edwards of the Community of Reconciliation Church in Pittsburgh was charged Tuesday with presiding at the June 2005 wedding in violation of church standards that marriage should be reserved to one man and one woman. Ministers are only allowed to bless same-sex unions.

"For me, Scripture teaches that the message of marriage is the covenant — the love and commitment between the partners" and not their gender, Edwards said.

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In March, a longtime Presbyterian minister in California, the Rev. Jane Spahr of San Rafael, was the first in the denomination to be tried for officiating at same-sex marriages.

She was acquitted by a church tribunal, but the Presbytery of the Redwoods, which has jurisdiction over the case, has appealed, according to Jerry Van Marter, a national church spokesman.

Like other mainline Protestant denominations, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has been struggling to resolve differences over whether the Bible condemns gay relationships.

Presbyterians who support same-gender unions say the Bible's social justice teachings on inclusiveness should prevail over what they see as an outdated view of homosexuality.

In June, a Presbyterian national assembly adopted what was meant to be a compromise plan regarding gay ordination. It limits sex to men and woman who are married, but grants new leeway for local congregations to sidestep that church law and allow openly gay ministers to take office. Church tribunals are expected to get a run of complaints that will test the compromise.

"I want to participate in the working out of this disagreement over the place of gays and lesbians in the church," said Edwards, who has served as a minister for 28 years.

Edwards oversaw the marriage of Nancy McConn, 66, a retired computer software developer from Dallas, W.Va., and her partner, Brenda Cole, 52, a clinical psychologist. Two fellow clergy who saw the marriage announcement in a newspaper made the complaint, Edwards said.

If found guilty, Edwards faces penalties that range from a rebuke to removal from ministry. No trial date has been set.