Assembly Action
On this Item, the General Assembly, acted as follows:
Approve as Amended
Amended on the floor to insert "traditionally a man and a woman" after the words "two people" in the first paragraph
Electronic Vote - Plenary
Affirmative: 429
Negative: 175
Abstaining: 0
Final Text:

Amend Paragraph 5 to read as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with brackets and with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown with brackets and with an underline.]

     “If they meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to marry, a couple may request that a service of Christian marriage be conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who is authorized, though not required, to act as an agent of the civil jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A couple requesting a service of Christian marriage shall receive instruction from the teaching elder, who [shall] [may] agree to the couple’s request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service."

2.     Add a new paragraph at the end to read as follows: [Text to be added is shown with brackets and with an underline.]

     "[Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.]"

Committee Recommendation
On this Item, the Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee, acted as follows:
Approve as Amended
[Counted Vote - Committee]
Affirmative:49
Negative:18
Abstaining:0
Final Text:

1.     Amend Paragraph 5 to read as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with brackets and with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown with brackets and with an underline.]

     “If they meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to marry, a couple may request that a service of Christian marriage be conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who is authorized, though not required, to act as an agent of the civil jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A couple requesting a service of Christian marriage shall receive instruction from the teaching elder, who [shall] [may] agree to the couple’s request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service."

2.     Add a new paragraph at the end to read as follows: [Text to be added is shown with brackets and with an underline.]

     "[Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.]"

Recommendation

The Presbytery of the Cascades respectfully overtures the 221st General Assembly (2014) to direct the Stated Clerk to send the following proposed amendment to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes:

Amend W-4.9000 by striking the current text and replacing it with the following:

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.

In civil law, marriage is a contract that recognizes the rights and obligations of the married couple in society. In the Reformed tradition, marriage is also a covenant in which God has an active part, and which the community of faith publicly witnesses and acknowledges.

If they meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to marry, a couple may request that a service of Christian marriage be conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who is authorized, though not required, to act as an agent of the civil jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A couple requesting a service of Christian marriage shall receive instruction from the teaching elder, who shall agree to the couple’s request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service.

The marriage service shall be conducted in a manner appropriate to this covenant and to the forms of Reformed worship, under the direction of the teaching elder and the supervision of the session (W-1.4004–.4006). In a service of marriage, the couple marry each other by exchanging mutual promises. The teaching elder witnesses the couple’s promises and pronounces God’s blessing upon their union. The community of faith pledges to support the couple in upholding their promises; prayers may be offered for the couple, for the communities that support them, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness.

A service of worship recognizing a civil marriage and confirming it in the community of faith may be appropriate when requested by the couple. The service will be similar to the marriage service except that the statements made shall reflect the fact that the couple is already married to one another according to the laws of the civil jurisdiction.

Rationale

The PC(USA) has a long history of working for social justice and equal rights for all people.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) churches throughout the denomination are seeking to be inclusive, welcoming communities of Christian faith and are committed to honoring diversity and promoting peace, health, and justice in personal relationship, church, community, and the world.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) churches throughout the denomination also have a long history of struggling with issues of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) equality; working within the structure and standards of the PC(USA) and also taking actions of ecclesiastical defiance when their conscience leads them to believe the teachings of Jesus require such actions.

As requested by the 220th General Assembly (2012), many churches have been studying the issue of marriage equality both in the pulpit and through adult education classes.

The Presbytery of the Cascades stands with those in the PC(USA) who believe that the teachings of Jesus call for radical inclusion of all people and that the actions of Jesus, passed down in Scripture, showed unconditional love and equality for all people. We believe that God created each of us with many differences, including sexual preferences, and that those differences are to be celebrated as part of the creative plan of God.

Support of marriage equality is consistent with our faith tradition. The covenant of marriage requires love and commitment; qualities that are in no way gender specific.

Failing to allow for marriage equality continues to have negative consequences for the Body of Christ, the Church, in that it gives some of our members fewer rights than others, treating them as second-class members. This is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. Valuing the worth, health, and happiness of our children and youth, requires that they are allowed to grow wholly and holy in a church that embraces them and their visions of their future loving relationships. To deny marriage to the GLBT community will continue the discrimination they already experience and increase the level of stress and mental health issues that make this community more susceptible to substance abuse, depression, and suicide.

Marriage equality, on the other hand, will reduce the numbers of young people who find banning gay marriage to be hypocritical, unfair, and not the act of a caring Christian congregation.

The Book of Order of the PC(USA) should be amended to allow marriage between “two people” rather than limiting marriage to “between one man and one woman” and to allow PC(USA) church officials to perform marriage ceremonies between same-sex couples.

Comment
Advice from the ACC

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution advises the 221st General Assembly (2014) to disapprove Item 10-02.

This overture proposes to strike W-4.9000 in its entirety and replace it with new section W-4.9000. This includes revising the definition of marriage to “two people” and allowing teaching elders to perform marriage ceremonies between same-gender couples.

Similar overtures have been considered by previous General Assemblies. The 220th General Assembly (2012) voted to answer those overtures by a call for “a season of serious study and discernment” concerning its [the PC(USA)] meaning of Christian marriage using material prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship.

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution’s advice on this overture is the same as its advice to the General Assembly Committee on Civil Unions and Marriage in 2012 (Minutes, 2012, Part I, pp. 1164ff) and is not intended to be advice on the theological, ethical, and legal merits of the overture. The overture does not propose to change the basic premise that “marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind,” rather the overture seeks to amend the definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people.” Amending the definition of marriage to two people would alter the foundation on which previous AIs of this section have rested. A possible consequence of the proposed language is perceived tension between Scripture, the Confessions, and the Book of Order. The assembly will need to articulate the reasons for changing the current definition of Christian marriage.

If the assembly approves this overture, a constitutional issue that should be considered is the use of the word “shall” in the third paragraph (“who shall agree to the couple’s request only if …”). This could be interpreted to limit the teaching elder’s ability to deny performing a service of Christian marriage for any reason other than that given in the overture.

Other Comments
ACSWP Advice and Counsel

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) advises approval of Item 10-02.

A.           Introduction

The Christian Church has influenced societies over the centuries and throughout the world through its understanding of the love of God and neighbor. In the particular area of marriage, the Church has grown in its understanding of mutuality and mutual respect between marriage partners and the nature of the families that are created by such unions. Thus the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy—which has worked on matters of marriage, family, and human sexuality since the 1970 General Assembly Report on Sexuality and the Human Community—does not take the process of change lightly. Rather we pray that commissioners and the larger church can see God’s hands both holding us and leading us on the path of grace.

In this Advice and Counsel (A&C) memorandum, part of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy’s assigned role for the General Assembly on matters of social ethics and Christian conscience, we ask commissioners to look at several theological and polity considerations that we believe justify sending a constitutional change to the presbyteries. In another Advice and Counsel memorandum on Item 10-03, we address the matter of an authoritative interpretation (AI) that would not propose a re-definition of marriage but allow marriages to be performed in jurisdictions where it is legal without subjecting ministers, couples, and congregations to judicial charges within the Presbyterian system.

We draw here on the wisdom of the many concurring overtures sent in for this Item 10-02, as well as concerns in Items 10-01 and 10-05, which we recommend to answer by action on this item. We also cite sections from the 2012 Advice and Counsel memoranda of both our own committee, ACSWP, and the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC). In 2012, ACSWP and ACC both did not take positions on the variety of overtures on marriage presented and we recommended study by the church, for which the Office of Theology and Worship and many of our seminaries are to be commended for assisting.

B.           Theological and Ethical Framework

A basic way to look at the question of whether to change the definition of marriage is to ask whether the addition or extension of a benefit to a new category of persons takes anything away from the existing category or set of persons. Increasingly, around us in our culture and the developed world, heterosexual married couples are not threatened by the extension of the blessing and structure of marriage to GLBT people. Honoring deep yet equalizing traditions of gender complementarity remains possible for many Christians and other neighbors, while other forms of complementarity and partnership are also celebrated. Christian theologians and pastors have, in fact, often been in the lead in thinking through new forms of inclusion even as our churches have struggled to define the issues at stake. While the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and much of the church has focused on the moral bottom-line of fairness in what is now termed, “marriage equality,” this is not to deny the rich and beautiful traditions of marriage that we believe the church is still called to uphold. As Reformed Christians, we believe the biblical core of our faith supports the extension of the benefits of marriage as this overture proposes, while also affirming that no minister or session would be required to perform or permit inclusive marriages against their own conscientious convictions.

C.           Polity Framework Considerations

In 2012, the Advisory Committee on the Constitution produced a single comprehensive A&C to address a variety of marriage and civil union overtures, without taking a position either for or against (See pc-biz.org for any of the items in Committee 13 of the 2012 General Assembly). We find excerpts from that memorandum continue to be helpful:

In offering this advice, the Advisory Committee on the Constitution is aware that the constitutional issues raised in the following sections are but one voice in the process of discerning the will of God for the church …

The intent of this advice is to offer to the assembly the collective judgment of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution regarding the constitutionality of the proposed overtures. It is not intended to be advice on the theological, ethical, and legal merits of the overtures …

These sentences require interpretation: Does the second sentence (civil contract) describe a subset of the first (gift to all humankind), or is it a description of how the gift is conferred? Does the second sentence (civil contract) control and subsume the third (Christian marriage)? Is the language of “woman and a man” descriptive or proscriptive?

These are questions that apply directly to the polity issues presented by the overtures, and which create difficulties for the church as it seeks to understand what constitutes a faithful witness to the world. If God’s gift of marriage is only conferred through a civil contract, then the church’s practice (and therefore its witness) regarding marriage would be limited by the definitions set by civil authority. When state and church definitions were consistent, the question of how marriage was defined was not essential. With some states now providing for marriage between same-gender couples, the language of “… civil contract …” becomes problematic for the church; whose definition of marriage is proscriptive in the church?

The social witness policies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have consistently advocated for the end to discrimination in the civil arena on the basis of sexual orientation. This commitment to equality under the law has prompted our support of civil unions for same-gender couples that would afford them protections and rights by the state equal to those afforded heterosexual couples under marriage. The church has permitted the blessing of same-gender unions as an act of pastoral care to its members and as an act of witness, justice, and compassion to the wider community. The passage of civil laws providing for the marriage of same-gender couples creates a conundrum for church polity …

… the social witness of the church for equality under the law has been interpreted as being fulfilled in its affirmation for “civil unions”—but recent changes in some state laws have challenged this distinction along with the church’s liturgical practices and theological understandings of Christian marriage.

Both the Preface to the Directory for Worship and W-1.4001 make clear the connection between the church’s faith and its practice, so that forms of worship are informed biblically, theologically, and ecumenically, and the practice of worship respects both the tradition of the church and the pastoral needs of the community. In this light, changes to the language, forms, or definition of marriage should be informed by theological fidelity, ecumenical consultation, and pastoral sensitivity.

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution notes that questions about W-4.9000 and its relationship to same-gender couples have been addressed to the General Assembly since 1991. Increasing societal acceptance of same-gender couples, laws enacted by some states allowing marriage by same-gender couples, and our own denomination’s struggles over ordination standards have all contributed to the increase of items before the General Assembly seeking change, definition, or interpretation of this section of the Directory for Worship. The church’s concerns for the pastoral care of its members also contribute to the frequency and urgency of these questions. The appointment of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage (2008) and the request for the change in the Board of Pensions policy regarding benefits for same-gender couples are an indicator of the urgency of these matters…

There has been a major change in context since the assembly first began considering changes in practices of marriage. The United States now has a variety of marriage laws. Most define marriage as between a man and a woman, some allow for marriage between two persons regardless of gender, and others allow for civil union between two people regardless of gender…”

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy would note three things about the polity concerns identified by the 2012 ACC statement: that the church’s freedom to define marriage remains essential even if the decision is made to maintain a complementary understanding of civil and religious roles; that the affirmation of marriage as a gift of God to all is primary; and that marriage is not simply a dimension of pastoral care as it has Christian covenantal and communal dimensions. We understand the re-written section of the constitution proposed in this Item 10-02 that these three basic factors would remain unchanged. Our concern for this basic framework is the primary reason for our demurral on Item 10-01, which would separate too strongly the religious and civil aspects of marriage.

D.           Theological and Ethical Considerations

1.    The ACC excerpts quoted above note the factor of “urgency,” certainly seen again at this assembly, but which can actually be extended before the 1991 date they cite to 1978, if the full dimensions of that year’s report on ordination standards are included. Although these thirty plus years are short in terms of theological tradition and the life of God, many faithful members of our church have been waiting much of their lives to be fully included in our worship life as a people of God. It is primarily because ACSWP shares the sense of urgency with the proponents of Item 10-02 and its concurrences (and other Items before this Committee) that we recommend that Item 10-07 not be adopted. Certainly the number of states and countries allowing marriage equality is increasing rapidly based upon human rights and equal treatment provisions of civil constitutions. This is a reason to begin the constitutional process as well as to provide an Authoritative Interpretation.

2.    The justice argument that civil unions provided adequate or even equal basis for rights and respect for same-gender relationships has been proven false, in our view. Although it remains the position of some that same-gender relationships should not imitate or conform to heterosexual norms, the downsides of a “separate but equal” approach are hard to compensate for in the public and legal spheres. Item 10-05, while representing a creative possibility in some respects, would seem to us to fall prey to the weaknesses of a “two-track” approach. Theologically, ACSWP would also note the hopes of a more holistic approach to marriage and sexuality matters as far back as 1970, as well as in 1991.

3.    The theological focus of the church and use of its resources would be improved if a constitutional change were approved. This is part of the logic of Item 10-06, applied to AI’s, and it is relevant in the longer constitutional and theological context as well. The suffering of individuals and couples rejected by parts of the church and alienated from the love of Christ and Christian faith—these are the deepest costs to the Body. At the same time, the struggle for equal regard for same-gender persons within the Christian community has also had and has importance, as even costly litigation may illuminate the best values of the church. Now, however, our church and others may be able to turn more fully to an evangelism wedded to a fuller sense of justice and actually do more justice to a range of other urgent concerns. Certainly a church that affirms marriage equality—as proponents note—would seem likely to have more success in outreach and mission with younger adults in the United States.

E.            Social Witness Policy Considerations, Especially for Families

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy has been concerned about strengthening families for many years, working with ethicists who look at the economic and cultural factors such as low pay and systemic inequality that have put enormous pressures on parents and those considering parenthood. The assembly’s past policies on families, however, also give shed light on the current choices before the assembly regarding marriage.

The 216th General Assembly (2004) approved the policy Transforming Families. In its historical analysis, the policy points out that Scripture contains several forms of marriage and family, none of which is a “precise equivalent of contemporary marriage and family life” (C.1). It notes that the development of monogamous marriage took place over time in Hebrew (and other) societies. And it points out that “the Reformed tradition embraced marriage as a good for all in society, Christian or not” (C.1). As the Book of Order states, “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well being of the entire human family” (W-4.9001).

Transforming Families (http://www.pcusa.org/resource/transforming-families/) also states that while the marital-biological family is a basic form of family, it is neither “exhaustive nor exclusive” as a family form, and “it does not fully exemplify God’s ordering of interpersonal life.” Moreover, the policy recognizes that the forms and purposes of family have evolved as God’s ordering of equal gender relationships has become clearer. In these ways, the church has acknowledged that forms of marriage and family are shaped by of historical and cultural developments. Today we would find some of the previous forms and some of the interpersonal relationships that they embodied falling short of our understanding of God’s will for humankind and human well being.

Having said this, this policy did not address specifically the question of same-gender marriage and family. It assumed without comment the previous policies of the church that called for the same protections and civil rights for same-gender families that are equal to those of married heterosexual families. Equality under the law is one principle. But the church also recognizes the importance of these protections and rights to the capacity of such families to do what good families do: nurturing children, deepening love, providing material support, caring for the young and the sick and the aged, and creating a context for growth in faith. The church has understood that same-gender couples, and homosexual persons, have the same need and desire for the pastoral care of the church. Thus, it offers the blessing of the church on same-gender unions and committed itself to the wellbeing of children in same-gender unions as it has to all children (Transforming Families, p. 31).

Finally, Transforming Families ends with a vision of a church and society “which welcomes and nurtures all persons regardless of their family circumstances” and a church that rejects “attitudes or practices that value some more highly than others - based on gender, age, class, ability, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or any outward condition” (Recommendations, #2).

Still, these policies did not include same-gender couples in the church’s understanding of marriage. The intent of Item 10-02 (and others) is to embody in the church itself an equal recognition that same-gender faithful and committed relationships are included in the gift of marriage God intends for humankind. These items set before the 221th General Assembly (2014) the question of whether the church’s commitment to equality of civil rights for same-gender persons is possible if the church itself does not receive such relationships into its body on an equal basis with opposite-gender relationships.

ACWC Advice and Counsel

The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns advises the 221st General Assembly (2014) to approve Item 10-02.

The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns concurs with the rationale given in this overture.

The ACWC believes that in withholding the right to marry from same-gender loving people, the church is upholding a patriarchal standard for humanity. Committed to standing against patriarchy and its effects within the world and the church, ACWC advocates giving access to all that Christian marriage provides to same-gender couples in committed and loving relationships who are in the PC(USA).

The proposed amendment is a clear and compelling statement reflecting the gift of God that marriage provides to human beings. It encourages healthy families, congregations, and communities.

Concurrence
Presbytery of Albany (with Additional Rationale)

As witnesses to God’s grace, it is time for the members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to affirm clearly our common understanding of the value and meaning of marriage, rather than focusing on our disagreement about who may marry. Grounded in the Reformed understanding of marriage as covenant, the proposed substitute text for W-4.9000 lifts up the values of love, mutual support, and lasting faithfulness both for the married couple and for the faith community, thus answering the call in the recent study document issued by the Office of Theology and Worship: “a proper Christian understanding of marriage will claim again the role of the church as a fundamental approving and supporting community in which a marriage of two persons may not only make an appropriate beginning but in which also that marriage may be supported. Without making marriage a sacrament or supplanting the state, the church may offer, as it does in infant baptism, a community in which covenants are made and publicly acknowledged, are nurtured and brought to fulfillment” (“Christian Marriage in the Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.],” p. 26).

The recent adoption of the new Form of Government points the way toward clarification of our understanding of marriage by focusing on principles of theology and polity. In that spirit, this overture proposes a substitution for rather than a revision of the present text of W-4.9000, where detailed specification of procedures blurs the focus on principles. The substitute text seeks to uphold the intention of the new Form of Government to create a broad constitutional framework within which the councils of the church may adapt practices, procedures, and structures to the needs of particular mission.

Given the role of civil law in defining marriage, as it has been recognized from the beginning of the Reformed tradition, the current differences among civil jurisdictions regarding the gender of persons qualified to marry necessarily create different contexts for the mission of the church. Within the United States, as of August 2013, thirteen states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, California, Washington, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, and Vermont), Washington D.C., and two Native American tribal jurisdictions (Coquille, Suquamish) legally permit marriage between two people of the same gender as well as two people of different gender. The statement in the current text of W-4.9001, “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man,” is factually inaccurate.

Within their particular contexts for mission, teaching and ruling elders are responsible for determining appropriate pastoral care for a couple requesting a service of Christian marriage. “The worship of God in the Christian community is the foundation and context for the ministry of pastoral care …” (Book of Order, W-6.4000; see also W-6.3002 and W-6.3011), and a service of Christian marriage is a form of worship. In the interest of pastoral care, the proposed substitute text for W-4.9000 does not specify the gender of the couple requesting a service of Christian marriage, but emphasizes the authority of both the teaching elder and the session either to comply with or to deny such a request. Corresponding emphasis is placed on the fact that the teaching elder is not obliged to act as an agent of the state or other civil jurisdiction. The proposed text thus permits but does not mandate the participation of teaching elders and sessions in marriages of same-gender couples.

Such permission is justified by principles of theology as well as polity. “The biblical vision of doing justice” summarized in the Book of Order includes “supporting people who seek the dignity, freedom, and respect that they have been denied” (W-7.4002c), and surely this category includes people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Whether support for these people should include the right to marry depends in part on whether biblical references to marriage between persons of different gender are to be taken as definitions of marriage or rather as examples. The latter interpretation is supported by the early use of marriage as an example of the type of relation promised between God and the people of God (Hosea 2:14–23), some of whom, of course, are male and some female. The Confession of 1967 recognizes this principle of exemplification: “The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind” (Book of Confessions 9.47). Extending the gift of marriage to same-gender couples offers a means of “ordering of the interpersonal life” as an act of pastoral care. Having made a commitment of lasting faithfulness to each other before God and the community of faith, the couple who have entered into Christian marriage have a solemn responsibility to uphold that commitment. The faith community, in turn, have responsibility for continuing spiritual support and pastoral care for the couple. In its mission to society as a whole, the church thus helps to create a culture of faithful, loving, lasting relationships. Real meaning is given to the opening statement in the current text of W-4.9000, and preserved in the proposed substitute text: “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the wellbeing of the entire human family.”

Current Text of W-4.9000 [Text in brackets appears as marginal notes or footnotes in printed edition]:

W-4.9000            9.                 Marriage [2 Helv.Conf. 5.245−5.251; West.Conf. 6.131−6.139]

[W-4.9001 Christian Marriage]

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.

[W-4.9002 Preparing for Marriage]

a.                 In preparation for the marriage service, the teaching elder shall provide for a discussion with the man and the woman concerning

(1)     the nature of their Christian commitment, assuring that at least one is a professing Christian,

(2)     the legal requirements of the state,

(3)     the privileges and responsibilities of Christian marriage,

(4)     the nature and form of the marriage service,

(5)     the vows and commitments they will be asked to make,

(6)     the relationship of these commitments to their lives of discipleship,

(7)     the resources of the faith and the Christian community to assist them in fulfilling their marriage commitments.

This discussion is equally important in the case of a first marriage, a marriage after the death of a spouse, and a marriage following divorce.

[If the Marriage Is Unwise]

b.                 If the teaching elder is convinced after discussion with the couple that commitment, responsibility, maturity, or Christian understanding are so lacking that the marriage is unwise, the teaching elder shall assure the couple of the church’s continuing concern for them and not conduct the ceremony. In making this decision the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session.

[W-4.9003 Time and Place of the Service]

Christian marriage should be celebrated in the place where the community gathers for worship. As a service of Christian worship, the marriage service is under the direction of the teaching elder† and the supervision of the session. (W-1.4004−.4006) The marriage ordinarily takes place in a special service which focuses upon marriage as a gift of God and as an expression of the Christian life. Others may be invited to participate as leaders in the service at the discretion of the pastor. Celebration of the Lord’s Supper at the marriage service requires the approval of the session, and care shall be taken that the invitation to the Table is extended to all baptized present. The marriage service may take place during the Service for the Lord’s Day upon authorization by the session. It should be placed in the order as a response to the proclamation of the Word. It may then be followed by the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. (W-2.4010; W-3.3503)

[W-4.9004 Form and Order of Service]

The service begins with scriptural sentences and a brief statement of purpose. The man and the woman shall declare their intention to enter into Christian marriage and shall exchange vows of love and faithfulness. The service includes appropriate passages of Scripture, which may be interpreted in various forms of proclamation. Prayers shall be offered for the couple, for the communities which support them in this new dimension of discipleship, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness. In the name of the triune God the teaching elder† shall declare publicly that the woman and the man are now joined in marriage. A charge may be given. Other actions common to the community and its cultures may appropriately be observed when these actions do not diminish the Christian understanding of marriage. The service concludes with a benediction.

[W-4.9005 Music and Appointments]

Music suitable for the marriage service directs attention to God and expresses the faith of the church. (W-2.1004) The congregation may join in hymns and other musical forms of praise and prayer. Flowers, decorations, and other appointments should be appropriate to the place of worship, enhance the worshipers’ consciousness of the reality of God, and reflect the integrity and simplicity of Christian life. (W-1.3034; W-1.4004−.4005; W-5.5005)

[W-4.9006 Recognizing Civil Marriage]

A service of worship recognizing a civil marriage and confirming it in the community of faith may be appropriate when requested by the couple. The service will be similar to the marriage service except that the opening statement, the declaration of intention, the exchange of the vows by the husband and wife, and the public declaration by the teaching elder† reflect the fact that the woman and man are already married to one another according to the laws of the state.

 

Presbytery of Baltimore
Presbytery of Boston
Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse (with Additional Rationale)

At issue is the Presbyterian understanding of the nature of Christian marriage and the responsibility and ability of a pastor and session to extend appropriate pastoral care. As more and more states (fourteen at this writing) authorize marriage between same-gender partners, pastors and sessions trying to be responsible in providing pastoral care to church members by officiating at marriages in the church building find themselves increasingly constrained by the provisions of W-4.9000 of the Directory for Worship as interpreted by the 1991 General Assembly and subsequent decisions of the General Assembly’s Permanent Judicial Commission.

In light of the increased flexibility offered by the new Form of Government for conducting the mission of the church, it is time for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to amend the Directory for Worship to provide comparable flexibility in extending pastoral care to church members in same-gender partnerships.

The report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, which the 219th General Assembly (2010) approved and commended to the church in 2010, offers important background to the biblical, theological, historical, cultural, and pastoral issues involved here.

The following brief observations support the amendment to the Directory for Worship requested above:

* The Bible and the Reformed tradition reflect many patterns and forms of legal, religiously approved marital relationships.1

* The understanding of marriage has changed through the years and was often geared more to property rights or political advantage than to a mutual, loving relationship.2

* Marriage is a contract regulated and licensed by the state.3 This was recognized in the ancient church and in Protestant churches since the Reformation.4

* There are legitimate differences of interpretation of the passages regarding homosexual relationship in the Bible.5 The present regulation forces Presbyterian elders to act based on one interpretation, with which many disagree as a matter of conscience.

* Jesus in his public ministry broke down the barriers that separated people. He identified with those who were outcasts and marginalized by society. Gay and lesbian individuals are considered outsiders by many today. The church needs to witness to the inclusive love of Jesus for all people.6

* To prohibit clergy and congregations from fulfilling a legitimate request for pastoral services binds the conscience of clergy and prevents them from fulfilling their pastoral responsibilities.

* In 2010, the presbyteries approved Amendment A allowing persons in same-sex relationships to be ordained. These church members should be allowed to be married if the state issues them a marriage license and their teaching elder determines that their marriage is advisable.

* The statement restricting marriage to “one man and one woman”7 addresses polygamy in 17th century England.

In light of the above we believe positive action on this overture is warranted.

Endnotes

1.   Report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, pp. 1–2 and 25–27.

2.    Ibid., pp. 3 and 27

3.    Book of Order, Directory for Worship, W-4.9000 “Marriage is a civil contract … .”

4.   Report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, pp. 3–4 and 27–28.

5.   Ibid., pp. 11, 13 (item 3), and 20–21.

6.   Book of Confessions, The Confession of 1967, 9.44 and 9.47; Book of Order, Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-1.0302c, F-1.0404, and F-1.0405.

7.   Book of Confessions, The Westminster Confession of Faith, 6.131.

 

Presbytery of Chicago (with Additional Rationale)

Currently in our churches and communities, same-gender couples are living together in loving, committed, monogamous relationships. They are raising children, caring for aging parents, and making positive contributions to their communities. These couples include new and longtime members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Their relationships are equivalent to a marriage in every way but formal recognition by the church and by most states in which they live, though an increasing number of states are recognizing their relationships as marriages and many others recognize civil unions.

By reforming the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship we would recognize committed, lifelong relationships that are already being lived out by our members. We would honor and support the love and commitment they practice in their lives every day. We would bear witness to the love of God as it is expressed between these couples and as we offer that love to them on behalf of the church.

In addition, as the legal recognition of same-gender relationships goes through transitions throughout the country, PC(USA) clergy and sessions are faced with complex decisions regarding ecclesiastical authority and property use. It is important to remember that while a teaching elder may act as an agent of the state in performing legal marriages, a teaching elder may also act as an agent of the church in performing a Christian marriage that is not recognized by the state. An example would be the marriage of an 80 and 85 year old who do not want to legally be married because of the loss of a pension but who do want to be married in the eyes of the church. In this case the teaching elder would not invoke the power given by the state in pronouncing the marriage.

Same-gender couples who are members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can come to their minister and request that minister to prepare them for marriage and solemnize said marriages as an agent of the state, only to be denied that important time of pastoral care and ministry because of the current interpretation of the provisions replaced by this amendment. These marriages create certain privileges and responsibilities for the married couple and their families within the community and the church that cannot be ignored. Among other things, civil marriage bestows a new status on this couple and designates them as a unique social unit; it delineates their family structure and makes the other their next of kin; it establishes parental and societal rights and responsibilities for them; and establishes their rights of inheritance along with creating larger familial relationships.

All of these issues affect this new family and their lives in the church. Broadening the language to reflect a broader, but distinctly reformed and covenant-centered understanding of marriage removes the polity barriers faced by some ministers, sessions, church members, and other Christians while continuing to honor the laws of each state and the individual consciences of every ruling and teaching elder and congregation.

Overtures directly addressing marriage equality in the United States and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have come before the last two General Assemblies. The 219th Assembly (2010) completely failed to substantively address the marriage-related overtures that were before it. The 220th General Assembly (2012) failed to substantively address overtures related to authoritative interpretation of the marriage provisions at issue in this overture and, by a narrow margin, failed to approve changes to W-4.9000. Then and now, though in substantially different fashion, the proposed changes to W-4.9000 are intended to recognize: (1) the contemporary reality of civil marriage under the law, (2) the ecclesial reality of marriage equality in the polity of our mainline sisters and brothers in Christ and, most importantly, (3) the theological reality that our longstanding tradition of reforming our understanding of the marital covenant faithfully leads us to now recognizing and solemnizing that covenant regardless of the gender of the parties involved.

In the ecclesial trial of one of the last major cases on marriage equality in the Presbyterian courts, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of the Redwoods (1) gave thanks “for the courageous and heartrending testimonies of the married couples who shared with us their great hurt through the policies of our church … [and] for the joy in marriage they shared with us”; (2) asked “for forgiveness for the harm that has been, and continues to be, done to them in the name of Jesus Christ” and (3) implored the General Assembly “to listen to these testimonies, which are now part of this record, to take them to heart, and to do what needs to be done to move us as a church forward on this journey of reconciliation.” See Decision of the PJC of the Presbytery of the Redwoods, dated August 24, 2010. Similarly, in the GAPJC decision, Southard v. Presbytery of Boston, February 4, 2010, five members of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission expressly recognized that the current language of the Constitution with regard to marriage is at odds with numerous other provisions mandating “the acceptance of our gay, lesbian, and bisexual brothers and sisters into the full fellowship of the church,” and “urged the General Assembly to amend the constitution to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples in the PC(USA) and otherwise welcome gay, lesbian, and bisexual people into the full fellowship of the church.”

As of the time this overture is proposed (October 8, 2013), both the legal and ecclesial landscapes have dramatically changed since those 2010 opinions. Marriage equality is nationally recognized with the invalidation of the Defense of Marriage Act by the United States Supreme Court in 2013 and (as of September 2013) thirteen state governments (those of Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Maryland, Washington, Delaware, Rhode Island and Minnesota), along with the District of Columbia, the Coquille Indian Tribe, the Suquamish tribe, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation issue same-sex marriage licenses. Further, court rulings mandating marriage equality are on appeal in New Mexico and New Jersey. Rulings and legislative action are pending in a number of other states, including Illinois. If Illinois adopts marriage equality this year, a proposal supported by a majority of Illinoisans, more than 40 percent of the United States’ citizenry will live in jurisdictions recognizing marriage equality.

For the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for the good of loving, monogamous, same-gender couples in our church and for the community and for the greater ministry of our clergy, sessions, and churches, we propose these changes to the Directory for Worship.

Presbytery of East Iowa (with additional rationale)

Marriage is no longer a civil contract

Christians in the Reformed Tradition view marriage not as a sacrament bestowed by the church but as a blessing that two people seek on a contract they are entering under auspices of the state. The church has defined marriage, first, as “… a gift God has given to all humankind. …” (W-4.9001) and at the same time has said, “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man” (W-4.9001). In at least fourteen states and the District of Columbia, this civil definition is no longer true.

As the number of states allowing same-gender marriage increases, more and more Presbyterian ministers are being asked joyfully to perform a worship service of marriage for same-gender congregants much like they provide for their heterosexual congregants.

Christian marriage is a covenant

The wording of the proposed amendment places primary responsibility on teaching elders to utilize their pastoral discretion in counseling the two people to be married specifically about the covenant of marriage “and commitment to living their lives together according to its values.” While teaching elders may still act as agents of the state in signing the marriage contract, the emphasis of the proposed wording of Overture 021 places higher value on the church’s belief that marriage is a gift from God to all of humankind and that the marriage ceremony itself is a response to God’s Word in an act of worship.

Use inclusive language

General Assemblies in 2010 and 2012 each had the opportunity to issue an authoritative interpretation that would provide immediate direction to teaching elders and sessions regarding the Directory for Worship. Both times, the General Assembly allowed parliamentary maneuvering to prevent them from even allowing these overtures to come to a vote on the plenary floor.

Replacing the wording in our Directory for Worship with wording that utilizes a more inclusive language, focuses on the covenant of marriage rather than the civil contract, and is in keeping with the intention of the new Form of Government to provide a framework by which we shall operate rather than detailed stipulations to the current language, thus providing clear direction for all teaching elders and sessions and allowing them to adopt this passage to fit their own sense of calling as it relates to marriage in this time and in this place.

Presbytery of Genesee Valley (with additional rationale)

At issue is the Presbyterian understanding of the nature of Christian marriage and a pastor’s and session’s responsibility and ability to extend appropriate pastoral care. As more and more states (fourteen at this writing) authorize marriage between same-gender partners, pastors, and sessions trying to be responsible in providing pastoral care to church members by officiating at marriages in the church building find themselves increasingly constrained by the provisions of W-4.9000 of the Directory for Worship as interpreted by the 203rd General Assembly (1991) and subsequent decisions of the General Assembly’s Permanent Judicial Commission.

In light of the increased flexibility offered by the new Form of Government for conducting the mission of the church, it is time for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to amend the Directory for Worship to provide comparable flexibility in extending pastoral care to church members in same-gender partnerships.

The report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, which the 219th General Assembly (2010) approved and commended to the church, offers important background to the biblical, theological, historical, cultural, and pastoral issues involved here (Minutes, 2010, Part I, pp. 909ff).

The following brief observations support the amendment requested above:

* The Bible and the Reformed tradition reflect many patterns and forms of legal, religiously approved marital relationships.1 The nostalgically remembered pattern of marriage of 1940s America cannot be taken as normative from a biblical or theological point of view.

* The understanding of marriage has changed through the years and was often geared more to property rights or political advantage than to a mutual, loving relationship.2

* Marriage is a contract regulated and licensed by the state.3 This was recognized in the ancient church and in Protestant churches since the Reformation.4

* There are legitimate differences of interpretation of the passages regarding homosexual relationship in the Bible.5 The present regulation forces Presbyterian elders to act based on one interpretation, with which many disagree as a matter of conscience.

* Jesus in his public ministry broke down the barriers that separated people. He identified with those who were outcasts and marginalized by society. The gays and lesbians are considered outsiders by many today. The church needs to witness to the inclusive love of Jesus for all people.6

* To prohibit clergy and congregations from fulfilling a legitimate request for pastoral care binds the conscience of clergy and prevents them from fulfilling their pastoral responsibilities.

* In 2010, the presbyteries approved Amendment A, allowing persons in same-sex relationships to be ordained. These church members should be allowed to be married if the state issues them a marriage license and their teaching elder determines that their marriage is advisable.

* The statement restricting marriage to “one man and one woman”7 addresses polygamy in 17th century England.8 The statement that marriage is “between a man and a woman”9 reflects conventions of the mid-20th century and is descriptive, not prescriptive. This overture is necessary to clarify those ambiguities and antiquated statements contained in W-4.9000.

* This amendment is also necessary to align our Directory for Worship with the principles of justice and equitable Foundations of Presbytery Polity (F-1.0403) that states “… In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God unites persons through baptism regardless of race, ethnicity, age, sex, disability, geography, or theological conviction. There is therefore no place in the life of the Church for discrimination against any person. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall guarantee full participation and representation in its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups within its membership. …”

In light of the above we believe positive action on this overture is warranted.

Endnotes

1.   Report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, pp. 1–2 and 25–27.

2.   Ibid., pp. 3 and 27.

3.   Book of Order, Directory for Worship, W-4.9000 “Marriage is a civil contract . …”

4.   Report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, pp. 3–4 and 27–28

5.   Ibid., pp. 11, 13 (item 3), and 20–21

6.   Book of Confessions, The Confession of 1967, 9.44 and 9.47; Book of Order, Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-1.0302c, F-1.0404, and F-1.0405.

7.   Book of Confessions, The Westminster Confession of Faith, 6.131.

8.   Book of Confessions, Directory for Worship, W-4.9000.

9.   Book of Confessions Study Edition, Geneva 1996, p. 200, footnote q.

Presbytery of Heartland (with additional rationale)

This overture lifts up love and commitment as the primary values of a marriage rooted in faith. As such, it excludes no couple from receiving the guidance and blessing of the church in their marriage.

This corrects the erroneous statement in the Directory for Worship that civil law only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman.

This makes explicit the right and duty of teaching elders* to exercise pastoral discretion both in agreeing to officiate at a marriage ceremony for a particular couple, thus acting as an agent of the state, and in declining to do so.

This more concise language comports with the intent of the new Form of Government. It relieves teaching elders, sessions, and communities of faith from detailed stipulations about their actions, and emphasizes their broader responsibilities when asked to play a role in the celebration of a couple’s marriage covenant.

*As in other places in the Directory for Worship, the use of “teaching elders” in this paragraph should be understood to include ruling elders commissioned to pastoral service.

Presbytery of Hudson River (with additional rationale)

For decades the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been struggling with how to be truly welcoming and truly just, as Jesus has called us to be. We have struggled with how to assure a full and unbiased search process so that minorities are included. We have asked ourselves who can be ordained and who can be married in our church.

For much of our nation’s and our church’s history, the marriage question focused on interracial couples.

In 1878, the Supreme Court of Virginia invalidated the marriage of a white woman and a black man on the grounds that interracial marriage was contrary to God’s plan. “[C]onnections and alliances so unnatural that God and nature seem to forbid them,” the court asserted, “should be prohibited by positive law, and be subject to no evasion.”

“God and nature.”

These were the grounds on which white supremacists successfully upheld so called miscegenation laws for another one hundred years, during which time interracial marriage was prohibited in thirty states.

One of the few people to openly condemn miscegenation laws was the philosopher Hannah Arendt, who in 1959 boldly stated that the right to marry whom one chooses is the most fundamental of all human rights:

The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which “the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one’s skin or color or race” are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.

It would be another seven years before the Supreme Court of the United States took up the question of whether the laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional.

The PC(USA) wasn’t content to stand by while the justices deliberated.

The 835 delegates to the UPCUSA 177th General Assembly (1965) of the then 3.3 million-member church concluded that there are “no … theological grounds for condemning or prohibiting” marriage between consenting adults merely because of racial origin (Minutes, UPCUSA, 1965, Part I, p. 409).

Today, when one out of every fifteen marriages is interracial, most Presbyterians embrace Jesus for his inclusivity.

Jesus, we’re the first to say, was not a racist.

And yet we don’t often consider that prohibiting the right of our fellow Christians to marry someone of the same gender is wholly analogous to prohibiting the marriages of people of different races.

Indeed, in 2003, when Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote for the majority in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, the first ruling by a state’s highest court that same-gender couples have the right to marry, she made the analogy herself:

Recognizing the right of an individual to marry a person of the same sex will not diminish the validity or dignity of opposite-sex marriage, any more than recognizing the right of an individual to marry a person of a different race devalues the marriage of a person who marries someone of her own race. … That same-sex couples are willing to embrace marriage’s solemn obligations of exclusivity, mutual support, and commitment to one another is a testament to the enduring place of marriage in our laws and in the human spirit (http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/440/440mass309.html, p. 337).

To deny the privilege of being married in the church and declaring before God the promises of fidelity and caring, limits the pastoral capacity of our clergy and our church.

It is now time to allow, not force, but allow, our clergy and churches to perform weddings in jurisdictions where it is legal for same-gender couples as a sign of our pastoral care.

Let us remember that it is Jesus who gave us the example of welcoming all to fellowship and ministry with him. It was our Lord who stood against the tyrannical bias of his day when he welcomed Mary to sit at his feet as a disciple, and when he ate with Zacchaeus and declared that salvation was his, and when he healed the Roman centurion’s servant even though he was Israel’s enemy.

In the spirit of Jesus, it is time to say to those in the LGBT community that you are welcome, that you are fully members of the PC(USA).

Presbytery of National Capital

As witnesses to God’s grace, it is time for the members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to affirm clearly our common understanding of the value and meaning of marriage, rather than focusing on our disagreement about who may marry. Grounded in the Reformed understanding of marriage as covenant, the proposed substitute text for W-4.9000 lifts up the values of love, mutual support, and lasting faithfulness both for the married couple and for the faith community, thus answering the call in the recent study document issued by the Office of Theology and Worship: “a proper Christian understanding of marriage will claim again the role of the church as a fundamental approving and supporting community in which a marriage of two persons may not only make an appropriate beginning but in which also that marriage may be supported. Without making marriage a sacrament or supplanting the state, the church may offer, as it does in infant baptism, a community in which covenants are made and publicly acknowledged, are nurtured and brought to fulfillment” (“Christian Marriage in the Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.],” p. 26).

The recent adoption of the new Form of Government points the way toward clarification of our understanding of marriage by focusing on principles of theology and polity. In that spirit, this overture proposes a substitution for rather than a revision of the present text of W-4.9000, where detailed specification of procedures blurs the focus on principles. The substitute text seeks to uphold the intention of the new Form of Government to create a broad constitutional framework within which the councils of the church may adapt practices, procedures, and structures to the needs of particular mission.

Given the role of civil law in defining marriage, as it has been recognized from the beginning of the Reformed tradition, the current differences among civil jurisdictions regarding the gender of persons qualified to marry necessarily create different contexts for the mission of the church. Within the United States, as of August 2013, thirteen states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, California, Washington, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, and Vermont), Washington D.C., several counties in New Mexico, and five Native American tribes legally permit marriage between two people of the same gender as well as two people of different gender. The statement in the current text of W-4.9001, “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man,” is factually inaccurate.

Within their particular contexts for mission, teaching and ruling elders are responsible for determining appropriate pastoral care for a couple requesting a service of Christian marriage. “The worship of God in the Christian community is the foundation and context for the ministry of pastoral care …” (Book of Order, W-6.4000; see also W-6.3002 and W-6.3011), and a service of Christian marriage is a form of worship. In the interest of pastoral care, the proposed substitute text for W-4.9000 does not specify the gender of the couple requesting a service of Christian marriage, but emphasizes the authority of both the teaching elder and the session either to comply with or to deny such a request. Corresponding emphasis is placed on the fact that the teaching elder is not obliged to act as an agent of the state or other civil jurisdiction. The proposed text thus permits but does not mandate the participation of teaching elders and sessions in marriages of same-gender couples.

Such permission is justified by principles of theology as well as polity. “The biblical vision of doing justice” summarized in the Book of Order includes “supporting people who seek the dignity, freedom, and respect that they have been denied” (W-7.4002c), and surely this category includes people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Whether support for these people should include the right to marry depends in part on whether biblical references to marriage between persons of different gender are to be taken as definitions of marriage or rather as examples. The latter interpretation is supported by the early use of marriage as an example of the type of relation promised between God and the people of God (Hos. 2:14–23), some of whom, of course, are male and some female. The Confession of 1967 recognizes this principle of exemplification: “The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind” (Book of Confessions, 9.47). Extending the gift of marriage to same-gender couples offers a means of “ordering of the interpersonal life” as an act of pastoral care. Having made a commitment of lasting faithfulness to each other before God and the community of faith, the couple who have entered into Christian marriage have a solemn responsibility to uphold that commitment. The faith community, in turn, have responsibility for continuing spiritual support and pastoral care for the couple. In its mission to society as a whole, the church thus helps to create a culture of faithful, loving, lasting relationships. Real meaning is given to the opening statement in the current text of W-4.9001, and preserved in the proposed substitute text: “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family.”

Presbytery of New York City (with additional rationale)

Since July 2011, the State of New York has allowed two people of the same gender to marry. It is now simply untrue that “marriage is a civil contract between one man and one woman,” as the Book of Order now states. Although some New York pastors in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have declined to perform such marriages in keeping with their conscience, many others are caught in an untenable position: their conscience tells them to exercise their pastoral responsibility and perform the marriage but the church tells them to fear prosecution. Such prosecutions have already placed tremendous financial burden on presbyteries, diminishing the church’s ability to effectively evangelize and perform necessary mission work.

We Are Called to Make Disciples

According to the Book of Order, we declare,

The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people. … proclaiming the Lord’s favor upon all creation. … In Christ, the Church participates in God’s mission … by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ. Human beings have no higher goal in life than to glorify and enjoy God now and forever, living in covenant fellowship with God and participating in God’s mission. [F-1.01]

… No person shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith. The Gospel leads members to extend the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the Gospel. [G-1.0302]

The invitation to the Lord’s Supper is extended to all who have been baptized, remembering that access to the Table is not a right conferred upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving … . [W-2.4011]

According to this, Presbyterians call all people to discipleship in Christ, live to glorify God, extend the fellowship of Christ to all people, and recognize that none of us earn or deserve God’s grace.

The Marriage Ceremony Is Worship

In our order for worship, we listen to the Word, proclaim the Word, and respond to the Word. Responding to the Word is a demonstration of the love of God for God’s people.

“The response to the proclamation of the Word is expressed in an affirmation of faith and commitment. … Response to the Word also involves acts of commitment and recognition. … acts of commitment which may appropriately be included as response to the Word are (a) Christian marriage, …” [W-3.3500, W-3.3502, W-3.3503] According to this, Presbyterians view Christian marriage as an act of worship.

Our Polity

One part of our current Presbyterian polity specifically excludes a group of people when it comes to worship: those people in loving, committed, Christian relationships who are also of the same gender and wish to marry. However elsewhere in our polity, we hold up the words of Jesus Christ:

“… There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:27–29). … The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall guarantee full participation and representation in its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups within its membership. … [F-1.0403]

Conclusion

We are all discerning God’s Word for us. And as surely as we are all unique creations of the loving God, we will each of us disagree from time to time. But if we profess to call all people to Christ, to call all people to proclaim God’s love for us in worship, to guarantee full participation in worship to all persons, we must give teaching elders and sessions the discretion to choose to recognize the covenant of Christian marriage for two people of the same gender who seek to enter into marriage with love and faithfulness, just as we allow teaching elders and sessions the discretion to choose otherwise. To do anything else unfairly denies this group of our membership the opportunity to fully worship our God.

Presbytery of San Francisco (with additional rationale)

Marriage is primarily about love, mutual support, and lasting faithfulness. Many states are increasingly recognizing that marriage is beyond gender. It refers to the commitment of two people to live beside each other with a love expressed as tenderness and justice. It refers to the deep promise to live together through the thick and thin of their journey together through the years. It refers to the mystery in which the love of God meets, is joined to and made manifest in the love of two people whose hearts are a home place to each other. The notion of marriage is demeaned by any lesser definition.

This overture removes the incorrect statement that civil law recognizes marriage only between a man and a woman. That statement is no longer true in thirteen states, the District of Columbia, and many federal agencies including the IRS. Recognizing this, some states, including California after the right for all couples to marry was restored by the courts, are already ahead of the church in moving the legal definition of marriage beyond gender. Let us remember that the most prevalent form of marriage described in the Scriptures is polygyny (patriarchal polygamy with multiples wives who were considered property of their husbands). There have been many definitions of marriage over the years. Since we live in a culture that recognizes the covenants between two people, this overture expressly encourages monogamous covenantal fidelity.

The present authoritative interpretation places Presbyterian ministers in the inevitable position of choosing to follow the current authoritative interpretation of Section W-4.9000 in the PC(USA) Constitution or to follow those other portions of our Form of Government that calls on them to offer the same pastoral care to all of their parishioners. Where the worship service of marriage for same-gender loving couples is recognized under the law of some states, it is neither fair nor pastoral to exclude members of a congregation by declining to perform their marriage on the grounds of gender alone. In practical terms, what this authoritative interpretation means is that teaching elders and commissioned ruling elders will be able to exercise their pastoral responsibilities without running the risk of prosecution by the church. Such prosecutions have placed a formidable financial and spiritual burden on councils of the church.

No teaching elder or session would be required to perform services of marriage that would violate their conscience. Changing the Directory for Worship in this way would move the church away from fear and reprisal, and closer to its own teaching on the hospitality of God and the welcome which that implies. This change also confirms that the decision making for hosting and performing such ceremonies is done at the local level with the pastor and session who know the couple best. Ultimately, this would also allow gay and lesbian teaching elders the right to be married in their own congregations. It should be hoped that those pastors who cannot perform such ceremonies for those who request them would find other teaching elders nearby or in their presbytery who may be willing to do so to preserve the pastoral connections of the couple within the church.

This overture is consistent with the overall intention of the new Form of Government that maintains the shared responsibility of the teaching elder, the session, and the community of faith, while reducing the detailed stipulations for action within that framework.

*As in other places in the Directory for Worship, the use of “teaching elders” in this paragraph should be understood to include ruling elders commissioned to pastoral service.

Presbytery of Southern New England (with Additional Rationale)

The church is now in a state of disunity regarding same-gender marriage. Such disunity is costly to the church’s treasure, time, and more importantly, its witness to Jesus’s call to loving covenant.

During such a time, we must be humbly conscious of the work of the Holy Spirit through Christian conscience. Teaching and ruling elders and their congregations have come prayerfully to recognize that some faithful same-gender couples are asking to be held to the same standards of mutual love and commitment as heterosexual couples. To deny the availability of Christian marriage for otherwise qualified same-gender couples is to reject their equal inheritance through Christ. That rejection denies our traditional belief that marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind.

Additionally, teaching elders who act in good conscience and officiate at the weddings of same-gender couples they deem ready for Christian marriage find they may be charged with the offense of violating their ordination vows for an act that the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) has said was not clearly prohibited when those vows were taken. In the current situation, compliant teaching elders, sessions, and congregations may find themselves to be denying the common humanity that is at the very focus of church life and worship.

Historic descriptions of marriage (including W-4.9000), as descriptions, are no longer accurate or complete. Their use as prescriptions has preempted the historic relational, pastoral roles of teaching elders and sessions, their discretion and conscience. The proposed amendment will reprioritize those roles and honor Christian conscience.

The GAPJC has acknowledged that existing interpretations have exacerbated disunity and has requested guidance. The proposed overture to amend the Directory of Worship would provide that guidance.

Throughout Scripture marriage is used as a metaphor for Christian unity, for God’s love and covenant with us, for the union of Christ and the church. May the church act to make this metaphor ever more evident.

Presbytery of the Redwoods

Throughout our communities, church, and nation, same-gender couples are living life and nurturing their families together in loving, committed, monogamous relationships. They are raising children, caring for aging parents, and making positive contributions to their communities. These couples include new and long-time members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In a growing number of states, the marriages of these same-gender couples have legal recognition, and are correctly honored as having equal character, quality, and dignity as any other marriage. Sadly, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has until now failed to honor in our Constitution (and in related judicial decisions) the full dignity and humanity of these couples, these families, and these marriages.

This overture seeks to amend W 4.9000 of the Constitution so that it more fully and faithfully reflects the expansive love of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and honors all families, without discrimination. By changing the marriage provisions of the Directory for Worship, we would recognize committed, lifelong relationships that are already being lived out by our members. We would honor and support the love and commitment they practice in their lives every day. We would bear witness to the love of God as it is expressed between these couples and their families and as we offer that love to them on behalf of the church.

In addition, as the legal recognition of the marriages of same-gender couples goes through transitions throughout the country, PC(USA) clergy and sessions are faced with complex decisions regarding ecclesiastical authority and property use. Teaching elders/ministers of Word and Sacrament currently can face ecclesiastical charges if they perform marriage ceremonies or civil unions that may be legal in their state. Same-gender couples who are members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can come to their minister and request that minister to perform their marriage as an agent of the state, only to be denied that important time of pastoral care and ministry because of church law. These marriages create certain privileges and responsibilities for the married couple and their families within the community and the church that cannot be ignored. Among other things, civil marriage bestows a new status on this couple and designates them as a unique social unit; it delineates their family structure and makes the other their next of kin; it establishes parental and societal rights and responsibilities for them; and establishes their rights of inheritance along with creating larger familial relationships. All of these issues affect this new family and their lives in the church.

Broadening the language to offer marriage to any two people removes the religious barriers faced by ministers, sessions, church members, and other Christians while continuing to honor the laws of each state. Changing the language in this way emphasizes that the Directory for Worship defines marriage within the bounds of our denomination and does not determine what is legal or illegal in civil law. This overture recognizes that the civil, legal definition of marriage is in transition within and among the states. This overture honors the dignity of all same gender couples and their families throughout the PC(USA).

In 2010 and then again in 2012, the 219th and 220th General Assemblies failed to act on the substantive marriage-related overtures that were before it, each time suggesting that presbyteries continue in conversation. The inaction of these General Assemblies has left these families officially outside the pastoral care of the church in marriage. Faithful pastors and sessions do courageously celebrate, and officiate, and participate in the marriages of same-gender couples, but they do so in the PC(USA) under the threat of ecclesiastical prosecution. Now, in 2014, it is even more clear that this constitutional amendment is necessary to recognize the full dignity of same-gender couples and their families. At the time of the drafting of this overture marriage was legal for same-gender couples in thirteen states and the District of Columbia. More than 30 percent of the population of the United States now lives in states that recognize the marriage of same-gender couples. This is a reality from which the PC(USA) can no longer hide. This reality requires a faithful response that recognizes the full dignity and humanity of all families.

A growing number of members of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission have called for a constitutional amendment like the one proposed here—as they have had to consider the prosecution of faithful pastors for celebrating the marriages of same-gender couples. In recent decisions, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission has used its power of authoritative interpretation to interpret the current language of the Constitution as barring any participation by a teaching elder/minister in the marriage of a same-gender couple. Dissenting from those decisions, in the 2010 decision in Southard v. Presbytery of Boston, February 4, 2010, five members of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission expressly recognized that the current language of the Constitution with regard to marriage is at odds with numerous other provisions mandating “the acceptance of our gay, lesbian, and bisexual brothers and sisters into the full fellowship of the church,” and “urged the General Assembly to amend the Constitution to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples in the PC(USA) and otherwise welcome gay, lesbian, and bisexual people into the full fellowship of the church.”

Two years later, six members of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission called on the church to amend its Constitution to more faithfully reflect the Gospel, as follows:

We cannot perpetuate the idea that LGBT couples are children of a lesser God. They are ethically and spiritually the equals of heterosexual couples in the eyes of our Lord. None of us can honestly declare to a committed couple that somehow heterosexuals reflect a more perfect image of the God we worship than they who view their gender differently. Our denomination has failed to do justice to the LGBT community while emphasizing the traditions of heterosexual marriage which are embodied in W-4.9001.

As Christians we claim the high goal of loving and including all, then seek to exclude the LGBT community. This second-class (or worse) treatment proclaims the hypocrisy of our present interpretations. Since the Directory for Worship is part of our Constitution and the majority has found that it may give rise to disciplinary cases, then it should be immediately amended to clearly state that we fully welcome the LGBT community into their rightful place in our church, including allowing them to marry.

The language of this amendment places primary emphasis on love, mutual support, and enduring faithfulness, and it affirms pastoral discretion in deciding whether or not to celebrate any particular marriage. For the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and for the good of loving, same-gender couples in our church, and for the community and for the greater ministry of our clergy, sessions, and churches, we propose these changes to the Directory for Worship.

Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area (with additional rationale)

Elements of a Rationale

Explain why amending the current description is important to families and to the church. This particular approach:

1.    Places primary emphasis on love, mutual support, and lasting faithfulness as the values of marriage.

2.    Removes erroneous statement that civil law recognizes marriage only between a man and a woman.

3.    Emphasizes both relationship and distinction between civil law and Reformed theology.

4.    Emphasizes the teaching elder’s primary responsibility to the values of Christian marriage as a covenant in responding to requests for marriage service.

5.    Upholds pastoral discretion in deciding whether or not to perform a marriage, whether it is a marriage between two people of the same gender or of different genders in jurisdictions that allow same-gender marriage.

6.    Maintains the framework of responsibility for teaching elder, session, and the community of faith, while reducing detailed stipulations for action within that framework, thereby following through on the overall intention of the new Form of Government.

Presbytery of Transylvania (with additional rationale)

1.     Section W-4.9001 of the 2013–2015 Book of Order, titled “Christian Marriage,” states in part: “… Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man.” This is no longer true in California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington and in cities, counties, and states with partial recognition of “marriage between two people” (Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Wisconsin, and six tribes in Oklahoma). Therefore this language must be changed or interpreted to reflect what is true.

2.     Civil law with respect to marriage differs from country to country, and the aspects of marriage differ from culture to culture and change over time within a culture. The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have documented dramatic changes in the practice of marriage in the past fifty years. We must be the church in the midst of the present reality. Christian same-sex couples who marry do not cause these changes in our culture, nor would their marriages in the church cause harm or disrespect to heterosexual marriages. To the extent that Christian heterosexual marriage can model for all heterosexuals the rule of love rooted in faith, so Christian same-sex marriage can model for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) community the same rule of love rooted in faith.

3.     The Holy Spirit guides the Church in particular places and at particular times. We approach the issue of same-sex marriage with humility and with awareness that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been oblivious in some cases and divided in others on a number of significant social issues, including slavery, suffrage, segregation, and the ordination of women and LGBT members. In these examples, at least some part of the church discerned the Spirit’s guidance in a way we would no longer understand to have been God’s will for God’s world. Sincere, passionate Presbyterians today discern God’s will with respect to same-sex marriage in different ways. We, in this time and place, cannot foresee how God will work with these different understandings. But, in humility and love, amending or reinterpreting the language in our Book of Order permits both understandings to move forward in the life of the church.

4.     The Bible includes many patterns and forms of marriage and marital relationships, and cultural aspects of marriage reflect its different time and place. But in their time and place, they presented no barrier between God and humankind. God works with and through men and women in whatever time and place they live. And God will continue to do so, no matter what the PC(USA) decides with respect to same-sex marriage. Our job is to work with God or get out of God’s way.

5.     The Book of Order protects a minister’s obligation and right to exercise pastoral discretion in deciding whether to officiate at the marriage service of any particular couple. The Book of Order also allows councils to make decisions concerning who they will and will not ordain to office. This authoritative interpretation (AI) and/or amendment will allow local councils (church sessions) to make their own decisions about the unique circumstances of each marriage, based on the laws of their state and their discernment of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This AI and/or amendment will allow ministers to use their discretion in states that have changed their civil law concerning marriage. No minister or church is ever required to participate in a particular marriage. And no minister or church can participate in a same-sex marriage that violates the civil law of the state where it would take place.

6.     The social witness policies of the PC(USA) have consistently advocated an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation. States recognizing marriage equality have ended such discrimination in civil marriage. To fail to apply those same standards to our own institution is unconscionable. The PC(USA) currently approves and participates in heterosexual marriage while prohibiting same-sex marriage. Marriages of either type should be founded on the rule of love and supported and strengthened by the institutional church.

7.     This AI and/or amendment, allowing discretion by teaching elders and councils in states where civil laws regarding marriage have changed, will bring us into line with our mission partners in countries that allow marriage equality: Argentina, parts of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, portions of Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom (England and Wales), and Uruguay. This change might be received critically by some mission partners; that happened after the 2010 change in ordination standards. However, mission fields that broke partnership with the PC(USA) over ordination have found new ways to work together in mission outside the previous structures. Our mission worldwide has more integrity where we recognize differences among cultures and choose to work together despite those differences, always under the rule of love. In truth, there is broad diversity of thought and conviction within the church and between the PC(USA) and any of its mission partners on any given issue. We can move and act as the body of Christ only when we identify our commonalities and work together despite our differences. We can, with God’s help, become a light to the world.

 

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