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Presbyterian appeals court reaffirms minister violated church policy by marrying same-sex couples [Updated]

March 29, 2011 | 12:27 pm

A Presbyterian Church appeals court has affirmed an earlier ruling that the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr violated the Presbyterian constitution and her ordination vows for marrying more than a dozen same-sex couples during the brief window when it was legal to do so in California.

Spahr, 68, was found guilty in August after a four-day ecclesiastical trial in Napa, Calif. She appealed that verdict to the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Pacific, which ruled that she violated church policy, which does not allow clergy to “state, imply or represent” that same-sex wedding ceremonies are church marriages.

“But in doing so, the members of the Synod PJC recognized that there is reason to question the basis for this disciplinary offense against Rev. Spahr,” said Sara Taylor, one of Spahr’s attorneys. “And it recommended that the church clarify its policy on gay marriage.... To date, the church has not formulated a clear and understandable policy.”

The retired Spahr plans to appeal the decision, which was made public Tuesday.

[Updated, 1:30 p.m.: But the Rev. Carmen Fowler, president of a conservative watchdog group called the Presbyterian Lay Committee, praised the ruling.

“The Synod PJC acted responsibly in upholding (the lower court) ruling under the current definition in the Presbyterian Constitution. That’s what their ruling highlights,” Fowler said, that marriage is “between one man and one woman.”]

During her August trial in Napa, 10 of the couples Spahr was charged with marrying gave emotional testimony about how important it was to them to be married in the eyes of the church by Spahr, a lesbian minister who has long worked for gay and lesbian rights.

In an email on behalf of Spahr and her legal team, attorney Scott Clark told those couples and other supporters that “we are disappointed with the decision.”

“We continue to hope and work for the day when the whole church (and these church courts) will celebrate Janie’s faithful ministry,” Clark wrote. “We continue to hope and work for the day when the church will live out the fullness and inclusiveness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

-- Maria L. LaGanga in San Francisco