Presbyterian Church Allows "Holy Union" Ceremonies for Homosexuals

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - The 2.6 million member Presbyterian Church (USA) will now permit its ministers to conduct religious "holy union" ceremonies for same sex couples. The decision, made by the denomination's high court, came Thursday. The high court ordered church districts to clarify the distinction between weddings and holy unions.

While the church now bans same-sex marriages, its constitution makes no mention of holy unions, a ceremony first done in 1998, at the South Presbyterian Church, in Dobbs Ferry, NY. The ceremony involved two homosexual men.

"Ministers should not appropriate specific liturgical forms from services of Christian marriage or services recognizing civil marriage in the conduct of such services. They should also instruct same-sex couples that the service to be conducted does not constitute a marriage ceremony and should not be held out as such," said the court's directive.

In a second ruling involving homosexual issues, the court found a homosexual ministerial candidate who says he has no plans to remain celibate, should not be excluded from the program. Church rules require members of the clergy to observe "fidelity in marriage" or "chastity in singleness." According to the court, behavior of ministerial candidates should be evaluated before ordination, rather than during training.

The church could vote to ban the holy union ceremonies by changing the denomination's constitution and three regions of the church have indicated they now plan to propose a constitutional ban, at the church's General Assembly meeting, June 24 in Long Beach, CA.

"We're very pleased with the decision," said Scott Anderson, a leader of the "More Light Presbyterians," a group which favors homosexual rights in the church. "But nothing is ever definitive in the Presbyterian Church. The General Assembly is going to be dealing with the holy union issue in Long Beach and we are prepared for that."

"I'm disappointed," said Reverend Marc Benton, a Presbyterian minister, based in New Windsor, NY. "The difficulty is that nobody knows what makes up holy union ceremonies. The line is as blurry as the pastor who is performing the ceremony wants to make suspicion is that some pastors perform what is basically a wedding and call it a holy union ceremony."