PITTSBURGH – Charges were dismissed Wednesday against a Presbyterian minister accused of breaking church law by performing a marriage ceremony for two women after church officials determined the charges were filed too late.
The Permanent Judicial Commission of the Pittsburgh Presbytery voted 8-0 to dismiss the charges against Janet Edwards because they were filed several days after a filing deadline. Edwards, a parish associate at the Community of Reconciliation Church in Pittsburgh, had been accused of violating the church's position on marriage by presiding at the June 2005 wedding.
The constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) reserves marriage for a man and a woman, although ministers may bless other types of "holy unions."
"This dismissal constitutes neither a vindication of the accused nor any finding with respect to the subject," according to a statement from the commission read by Kears Pollock, the group's vice moderator.
The Presbyterian Church, like other mainline denominations, has been struggling to stay unified despite differences over whether the traditional biblical view condemning gay relationships should stand.
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same-gender unions say the Bible's social justice teachings on inclusiveness should prevail over what they see as an outdated view of homosexuality.
Edwards presided over the marriage of Nancy McConn, a retired computer software developer from Dallas, W.Va., and Brenda Cole, a clinical psychologist.
Edwards said she was relieved not to have to face a church trial, but hopes this is not the end of the dialogue on gay unions.
"I want to participate in the discussion that must go on within our church about the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people," Edwards said.
About 200 people showed up at a rented hall for what was to be the start the church trial, most of them supporters who received invitations from Edwards to attend.
Robert Brown, who was on the church's prosecuting committee, said his group was looking into whether charges can be refiled.
In March, a longtime Presbyterian minister was acquitted of the same charge. A regional judicial commission of the church ruled that the Rev. Jane Spahr, of San Rafael, Calif., acted within her rights as an ordained minister when she married two lesbian couples in 2004 and 2005. The ruling has been appealed.