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Presbyterian Church rules that retired minister violated ordination vows when she married same-sex couples

August 27, 2010 |  1:39 pm

A Presbyterian church court in Napa ruled Friday that a retired minister violated the faith’s constitution and her ordination vows by marrying more than a dozen same-sex couples when gay marriage was legal in California.

But the panel voted unanimously that the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr’s actions did not disrupt the “peace, unity and purity of the church,” and its two-page decision commended the 68-year-old lesbian minister for her “compassion” and her ministry to gays and lesbians.

“In addition, we call upon the church to reexamine our own fear and ignorance that continues to reject the inclusiveness of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the decision said. “We say this believing that we have in our own Book of Order conflicting and even contradictory rules and regulations that are against the gospel.”

Spahr's attorney said she would appeal the decision.

Immediately after the decision was read in the fellowship hall of Covenant Presbyterian Church where the four-day trial was held, Spahr huddled with her defense team and the tearful couples who had testified about their love and commitment.

“It has been my greatest honor to have married you,” Spahr told them. “I just love you so much. We know as oppressive systems change, they need people who are as magnificent as you are. We are changing a wrong here, a terrible injustice. We are doing it.”

Although the Presbyterian constitution defines marriage as “a civil contract between a woman and a man,” Spahr’s defense team repeatedly emphasized this week that it holds no explicit prohibition on same-sex marriage. The panel disagreed.

--Maria L. LaGanga in Napa