Presbyterian minister Rev. Jean Southard acquitted in marriage equality trial

On March 1, 2008 retired Presbyterian Church (USA) minister Rev. Jean Southard officiated at the marriage ceremony of two of her parishoners, Jen and Sara.  The ceremony was conducted at First Presbyterian Church in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Marriage equality was already the law of the land in Massachusetts in 2008, but PC(USA)’s ecclesiastical law remains unsettled on the question.  A disciplinary complaint was filed against Rev. Southard within the PC(USA).

Today the PC(USA)’s highest judicial body, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, ruled that Rev. Southard will not be censured.

This verdict doesn’t remove the risk of censure for other PC(USA) ministers wishing to conduct marriages for gay & lesbian couples.  Only a change in the PC(USA) constitution (the Book of Order) can do that.  Encouragingly however, five of the fourteen commissioners called the church constitution “contradictory,” and eleven of the fourteen called on the church’s legislative body to take action.

In a concurring opinion, five commissioners said:


While we agree with the constitutional interpretation of the majority, we are intensely troubled by the underlying issue – the marginalization of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people by the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).  This issue is larger than the PC(USA).  It is a human rights issue.

The PCUSA is reformed and always being reformed.  The constitution is contradictory in its language regarding the acceptance of our gay, lesbian, and bisexual brothers and sisters into the full fellowship of the church.

In a separate concurring opinion, another six commissioners noted that:

…The church needs a sharper degree of clarification and guidance that precisely defines how it understands marriage, especially in light of the high financial and personal burden involved. Given the contention regarding the nature and practice of Christian marriage in our time, it would be important and valuable for the Church to state its definition in clearer and more precise legislation.

“What’s clear from the commissioners’ concurring opinions is that there are still contradictions in our church constitution that need to be resolved,” said Sara Taylor, of Rev. Southard’s legal defense team. “The refusal of the church to ecclesiastically support these marriages is in direct contradiction to its calls for inclusiveness and oneness in the body of Christ.  I’m pleased to see that these commissioners recognized this and that eleven of the fourteen are clear that the church leadership must take a stand and resolve these contradictions.”

Rev. Southard said in a statement today:

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is as deeply divided over same-gender marriage as the country is.  In the five states and the District of Columbia where marriage is inclusive of same-gender couples, ministers are being called upon by members of their churches to bless their vows and solemnize their marriages, but until now the church has given no guidance on whether ministers may do them.

Through our church’s legislative process there have been attempts to make law that the church will recognize marriage only between a man and a woman, and attempts to change the definition of marriage to a civil contract between two persons, leaving out the gender.  Neither of these efforts has succeeded.

This has left Presbyterian ministers in marriage-inclusive jurisdictions in a difficult position.  Any pastor who provides pastoral care for a member couple by officiating at their same-gender marriage runs the risk of being prosecuted by those who disagree. [snip]

I didn’t set out to bring about change in the church.  My only intent was to do what is faithful to the call of Jesus to love all our neighbors without exception.  When Sara and Jen asked me to marry them, there was no question in my mind that to discriminate against them would be to fracture the body of Christ.  To say yes to them was to say yes to all that I hold dear in our faith.

Read Rev. Southard’s full statement below the fold.

Related:

* Conversation with a straight Presbyterian Ally

* Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) lifts ban on noncelibate gay clergy but dodges the marriage question

Statement to the press by Rev. Jean Southard on conclusion of church trial

February 8, 2011

Rev. Jean Southard, a retired Presbyterian minister who was put on trial for officiating at the legal marriage of a same-gender couple in Massachusetts, issued the following statement today following the conclusion of the trial:

“My name is Jean Southard.  I became a Presbyterian in 1968, a few months after the death of Martin Luther King Jr.  The local Presbyterians had taken a costly stand for civil rights and I was drawn to both their inclusiveness and the integrity the church showed within the community.

“I have remained a Presbyterian for over 40 years – and an ordained minister for 22 of them – partly for love of our egalitarian polity, but primarily because social justice has been an important theme in our common ministry.

“When my home state of Massachusetts expanded our civil laws to embrace the unions of same-gender couples as legal marriages, one of our church’s most devoted and faithful couples – Sara and Jen – came to me.  “Will you marry us?” they asked.

“As with any other request for marriage, I proceeded with premarital counseling and used my pastoral discretion to determine whether Sara and Jen were ready to take this next step on their journey together in life.

“I knew that my church’s highest authority – the teaching of Jesus Christ -called on me to embrace love and inclusion.  Respecting loving relationships and shepherding them into faithful partnerships is a critical role for us all as followers of Jesus’ ministry.

“I also knew my church’s legal authority, our Book of Order, is full of affirming statements not just calling on, but requiring the inclusion of all God’s children in the church.

“With the authority given to me by both the church and the state, in addition to the unanimous support of our local church leaders, I happily agreed to solemnize the marriage of this faithful couple. It was a truly beautiful moment, and one I know that embodied the teachings of Jesus.

“The Presbyterian Church (USA) is as deeply divided over same-gender marriage as the country is.  In the five states and the District of Columbia where marriage is inclusive of same-gender couples, ministers are being called upon by members of their churches to bless their vows and solemnize their marriages, but until now the church has given no guidance on whether ministers may do them.

“Through our church’s legislative process there have been attempts to make law that the church will recognize marriage only between a man and a woman, and attempts to change the definition of marriage to a civil contract between two persons, leaving out the gender.  Neither of these efforts has succeeded.

“This has left Presbyterian ministers in marriage-inclusive jurisdictions in a difficult position.  Any pastor who provides pastoral care for a member couple by officiating at their same-gender marriage runs the risk of being prosecuted by those who disagree.

“I have seen this case before the GAPJC as one of ecclesiastical rights, similar to the civil rights cases that came before the United States Supreme Court.  It is generally up to the courts to decide for inclusiveness when the legislature is unable to.

“I didn’t set out to bring about change in the church.  My only intent was to do what is faithful to the call of Jesus to love all our neighbors without exception.  When Sara and Jen asked me to marry them, there was no question in my mind that to discriminate against them would be to fracture the body of Christ.  To say yes to them was to say yes to all that I hold dear in our faith.

“I am grateful to the Permanent Judicial Commission for finding that I should not be censured for the marriage I performed. I am saddened that this verdict does not make it possible for ministers to do the good and loving thing for their parishioners without the fear that someone will accuse them of violating church law.”

###

From More Light Presbyterians


The decision by the General Assembly’s Permanent Judicial Commission in the Rev. Jean Southard marriage case was released today. Charges had been brought against Rev. Southard who officiated at the wedding of two women at First Presbyterian Church, Waltham, MA, a welcoming and affirming More Light church in a state where same sex marriage is legal. The charges in the disciplinary case against Rev. Jean Southard have been dismissed by the GAPJC.

We encourage you to read the entire GAPJC findings to understand the nuances of Presbyterian polity and procedures and the basis for their decision.

Jean K. Southard v. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

through Presbytery of Boston, Appellee (Complainant)

We also urge you to read the two concurrences from members of the GAPJC that follow the decision. One concurrence raises the question as to whether or not W-4.9001 “provides an effective and unambiguous definition of Christian marriage.” The other concurrence calls marriage equality a “human rights issue” and calls upon the General Assembly to amend the constitution to allow for marriage of same sex couples in the PCUSA.

We give thanks to God for the faithful ministry of Rev. Jean Southard. We are grateful that charges against Rev. Southard have been dismissed by our Church’s highest court. We are grateful that the concurrences that accompany this GAPJC decision recognize that marriage equality is a human rights issue and call upon the General Assembly to amend the constitution to allow for marriage equality.

More Light Presbyterians is wholeheartedly committed to spiritual equality, ordination equality and marriage equality in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA). This GAPJC decision and its concurrences are important steps toward the achievement of marriage equality.

with hope and gratitude,

Michael

Michael J. Adee, Executive Director & Field Organizer, More Light Presbyterians

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Presbyterian minister Rev. Jean Southard acquitted in marriage equality trial

On March 1, 2008 retired Presbyterian Church (USA) minister Rev. Jean Southard officiated at the marriage ceremony of two of her parishoners, Jen and Sara.  The ceremony was conducted at First Presbyterian Church in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Marriage equality was already the law of the land in Massachusetts in 2008, but PC(USA)’s ecclesiastical law remains unsettled on the question.  A disciplinary complaint was filed against Rev. Southard within the PC(USA).

Today the PC(USA)’s highest judicial body, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, ruled that Rev. Southard will not be censured.

This verdict doesn’t remove the risk of censure for other PC(USA) ministers wishing to conduct marriages for gay & lesbian couples.  Only a change in the PC(USA) constitution (the Book of Order) can do that.  Encouragingly however, five of the fourteen commissioners called the church constitution “contradictory,” and eleven of the fourteen called on the church’s legislative body to take action.

In a concurring opinion, five commissioners said:


While we agree with the constitutional interpretation of the majority, we are intensely troubled by the underlying issue – the marginalization of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people by the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).  This issue is larger than the PC(USA).  It is a human rights issue.

The PCUSA is reformed and always being reformed.  The constitution is contradictory in its language regarding the acceptance of our gay, lesbian, and bisexual brothers and sisters into the full fellowship of the church.

In a separate concurring opinion, another six commissioners noted that:

…The church needs a sharper degree of clarification and guidance that precisely defines how it understands marriage, especially in light of the high financial and personal burden involved. Given the contention regarding the nature and practice of Christian marriage in our time, it would be important and valuable for the Church to state its definition in clearer and more precise legislation.

“What’s clear from the commissioners’ concurring opinions is that there are still contradictions in our church constitution that need to be resolved,” said Sara Taylor, of Rev. Southard’s legal defense team. “The refusal of the church to ecclesiastically support these marriages is in direct contradiction to its calls for inclusiveness and oneness in the body of Christ.  I’m pleased to see that these commissioners recognized this and that eleven of the fourteen are clear that the church leadership must take a stand and resolve these contradictions.”

Rev. Southard said in a statement today:

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is as deeply divided over same-gender marriage as the country is.  In the five states and the District of Columbia where marriage is inclusive of same-gender couples, ministers are being called upon by members of their churches to bless their vows and solemnize their marriages, but until now the church has given no guidance on whether ministers may do them.

Through our church’s legislative process there have been attempts to make law that the church will recognize marriage only between a man and a woman, and attempts to change the definition of marriage to a civil contract between two persons, leaving out the gender.  Neither of these efforts has succeeded.

This has left Presbyterian ministers in marriage-inclusive jurisdictions in a difficult position.  Any pastor who provides pastoral care for a member couple by officiating at their same-gender marriage runs the risk of being prosecuted by those who disagree. [snip]

I didn’t set out to bring about change in the church.  My only intent was to do what is faithful to the call of Jesus to love all our neighbors without exception.  When Sara and Jen asked me to marry them, there was no question in my mind that to discriminate against them would be to fracture the body of Christ.  To say yes to them was to say yes to all that I hold dear in our faith.

Read Rev. Southard’s full statement below the fold.

Related:

* Conversation with a straight Presbyterian Ally

* Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) lifts ban on noncelibate gay clergy but dodges the marriage question (more…)