United Methodists scraps ban on celebrating same-sex marriages

Rev. David Meredith, left, and Rev. Austin Adkinson sing during a gathering of people from the LGBTQ community and their allies outside the Charlotte Convention Center, in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, May 2, 2024.

By Peter Smit | Associated press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — United Methodist delegates on Friday rescinded their church’s longstanding ban on the celebration of same-sex marriages or unions by clergy and in its churches.

The action marked the latest major reversal of a collection of LGBTQ prohibitions and condemnations that have been enshrined in the laws and social teachings of the United Methodist Church over the past half-century.

The 447-233 vote at the UMC General Conference came one day after delegates voted overwhelmingly to withdraw a 52-year-old statement that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and two days after they had rescinded the denomination’s ban on LGBTQ clergy. .

It’s the UMC’s first legislative meeting since 2019, a meeting that featured the most progressive slate of delegates in memory following the departure of more than 7,600 mostly conservative congregations across the United States as it effectively stopped enforcing the ban on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ people.

The delegates voted to repeal a section in their Book of Discipline, or church law, that states: “Ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions shall not be performed by our ministers and shall not be held in our churches.”

Clergy will be neither required nor prohibited from performing any marriages, according to existing law that the conference confirmed with minor revisions on Friday.

On Thursday, delegates approved revised social principles, or statements of the church’s values. In addition to removing language that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teachings,” this revision also defined marriage as a union between two adults, without limiting it to heterosexual couples, as the previous version had done.

But while social principles are non-binding, the clause removed Friday had the force of law.

Regional conferences outside the United States, however, have the option to set their own rules, allowing churches in Africa and elsewhere with more conservative views on sexuality to enforce bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. A pending amendment to the church constitution would also allow the Americas region to make such adjustments.

The change does not mandate or even explicitly affirm same-sex marriage. But it lifts their ban. It will take effect on Saturday after the conclusion of the General Conference.

The Rev. Rebecca Girrell of Vermont told fellow delegates that she regretted initially turning down a request to perform a same-sex marriage because of church rules. “I vowed never again to betray my heart or my calling to offer ministry and grace to all people,” she said.

She later said she defied church rules and performed a same-sex wedding for two service members before their deployment. “You will never convince me that that was wrong,” she said.

But Samuel Cole of Liberia urged the conference not to approve the measure. He said this would not be accepted in other parts of the world, adding that only a man and a woman can produce children.

In 2019, a temporary window opened allowing American churches to leave with their properties, normally owned by the denomination, on more favorable than normal terms. Although the conference voted against expanding that window to international churches, the votes at the conference could still lead to the departure of some international churches in various ways – especially in Africa, where conservative sexual values ​​prevail and where homosexual activity are punishable in some countries.

In addition, the General Conference on Friday removed language making it a criminal offense for clergy to be a “self-identified practicing homosexual” or to perform same-sex marriages – similar to previous repeals, but affecting a different part of church law. There was some debate because the measure also removed other criminal offenses such as marital infidelity, but proponents said there are other parts of the Book of Discipline that allow the church to discipline ministers for immorality.

Associated Press religion reporting is supported by the AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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