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Presbyterian minister censured for officiating same-sex marriages

A retired Presbyterian minister who officiated at 16 same-sex weddings during the brief period they were legal in California has been censured by her denomination's highest court.

The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ruled in a 9-6 verdict issued Tuesday that the Rev. Jane Spahr of San Francisco deliberately violated church law when she conducted the marriage ceremonies in 2008.

Spahr, 69, who was ordained two years before she came out as a lesbian during the 1970s and subsequently went on to lead a national ministry that lobbied to have the church allow openly gay clergy as pastors, admitted marrying the couples, but argued that her actions were inspired by Presbyterian teachings on diversity and inclusion.

The commission previously has ruled that clergy may bless same-sex unions, but can only perform wedding ceremonies for opposite-sex couples.

"The issue is not simply the same-sex ceremony," the commission wrote in its majority opinion decision. "It is the misrepresentation that the Presbyterian Church ... recognizes the ceremony and the resulting relationship to be a marriage in the eyes of the church."

The censure constitutes an official rebuke, but does not carry additional penalties such as or exclusion from church services or ex-communication.

The commission, made up of 15 ministers and elders from around the country, held a hearing on Spahr's case in San Antonio last week. The six members who voted against censuring Spahr said punishing her sends the message that gay couples "are children of a lesser God."

"This second-class ... treatment proclaims the hypocrisy of our present interpretations," the minority's dissent read.

The actions that led to Tuesday's verdict were the second time Spahr had challenged the Presbyterian Church's teachings on same-sex relationships. The Permanent Judicial Commission acquitted her on charges of officiating at the weddings of two lesbian couples in 2004 and 2005 after concluding Spahr did not violate the church's constitution because the ceremonies she performed were not legal marriages.

The church's 173 regional bodies amended the Presbyterian constitution last year to allow the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy in committed same-sex relationships. Church leaders are expected to vote on this summer on whether to amend it further to allow ministers to officiate at same-sex weddings

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