United Methodist News Service: April 26, 1996

Homosexual Unions Banned

M. Garlinda Burton

DENVER -- United Methodist Church legislators said "no" April 25 to performing "holy unions," "covenants" and other marriage-like ceremonies for gay couples, and upheld a ban on funding agencies that "promote" homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.

On what some might consider the flip side, delegates to the 1996 General Conference also passed a statement opposing discrimination against homosexuals in the U.S. military.

In approving an addition to the church's Social Principles, which prohibits United Methodist clergy from performing homosexual unions, the delegates also referred the matter to the church's "supreme court."

That body -- the Judicial Council -- was asked to rule on whether such a proscription belongs in church law rather than the Social Principles which are, as one delegate said, instructive but not legally binding.

The ban on United Methodist-sanctioned holy unions is just one of a handful of petitions being considered by the 998 delegates meeting here. Homosexuality has been a political hot potato for the 10-million-member United Methodist Church for nearly a quarter of a century, garnering the attention of every United Methodist General Conference since 1972.

Despite fervent discussion on all sides, delegates voted a day earlier to maintain the denomination's stance that homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Stymied by a muddled late-night wrangle on parliamentary procedure, the delegates delayed overnight one final action on church law that would strengthen the church's ban on "self-avowed practicing homosexuals," by adding the words "proven with clear and convincing evidence."

In the discussion on gay marriages, two pastors pleaded unsuccessfully for more openness. The Rev. Gregory Dell, who serves a church in Oak Park, Ill., asked the church to consider a covenant service to support gay and lesbian couples who have been "marginalized" and denied opportunities to declare their commitment to one another.

However, June Goldman of Spirit Lake, Iowa, countered that her friends who are gay do not want "the church that they love to compromise its beliefs." She urged the assembly to reject the practice of performing same-sex covenants. They did, in a vote of 598 to 304.

Delegates also held to the church's ban on funding any groups that "promote" homosexuality. A minority proposal that would have spelled out that the ban did not apply to AIDS education and "research and discussion of any issues of human sexuality," was voted down.

Those speaking against the minority report pointed out that the church's current ban does not apply to education and discussion of AIDS and other sexuality issues.