4/1/2010—Candace Chellew-Hodge had a piece in Religion Dispatches yesterday that confused me. She was criticizing the Presbyterian Church for bringing church charges against Rev. Janie Spahr for performing same-sex marriages that were legal at the time under the law of California.
Before going further I want to make clear that Chellew-Hodge, Spahr and I do not differ over whether same-sex marriage should be legal. We all think it should be. Nor do we differ over whether our religions should recognize same-sex marriage as a legitimate union. They should.
The confusion is over what difference the civil status of the marriage makes. I would assume that the church must make its own judgment about whether a union of two people is legitimate or not. If it is not, the church must regard the relationship as sinful. After all, two heterosexuals living together are also “legal” under California law, but the church regards such behavior as sinful all the same. So I fail to see how the temporary status of gay marriage as legal in California, unfortunately overturned by Proposition 8, could be a defense for Spahr.
Partly, the confusion is the fault of the Presbyterian Church. In 2006, the Church did not really discipline Spahr because the same-sex marriages she performed were not really “marriages”. So now, these marriages were indeed “marriages”.
The mistake last time in not making an independent judgment about what relationships the church should recognize has come back to haunt it. But the question now is the same as it was then. Will the church welcome in love the full, expressed relationship of two Christians?