General Assembly backgrounder: Same-sex marriage
Proposals differ on whether to change church’s definition to ‘two people’
June 18, 2012
Echoing the debate around legalizing same-gender marriage across the United States, the 220th General Assembly will consider the issue as well.
Overtures from four presbyteries — East Iowa, Hudson River, New York City and Redwoods — call for a change in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s definition of marriage.
The Book of Order’s W-4.9000 currently defines Christian marriage as “a civil contract between a woman and a man.”
In varying ways, the overtures call for a constitutional amendment to change that definition to “two people.” Such a proposed amendment would have to be ratified by a majority of the PC(USA)’s 173 presbyteries.
Overtures from Charleston-Atlantic and Foothills presbyteries call for the assembly to confirm the current definition of marriage. The Foothills overture also calls for a super majority (two-thirds) vote from the 173 presbyteries in order for any amendments to take effect.
Five presbyteries — East Iowa, Boston, Genesee Valley, Cayuga-Syracuse and Baltimore — have proposed Authoritative Interpretations that would allow pastors to officiate wedding ceremonies in states where same-gender marriage is legal.
An Authoritative Interpretation proposed by the Presbytery of Mississippi argues against such measures, stating that W-4.9000 is “binding upon teaching elders and commissioned ruling elders authorized to perform Christian marriages.”
But the Presbytery of the Redwoods has proposed an Authoritative Interpretation that argues that the language of W-4.9000 is descriptive — not prohibitive — and makes no mention of same-gender marriage or prohibits pastors from “celebrating a legally sanctioned marriage in a service of Christian worship.”
Matters related to same-gender marriage will be considered by Assembly Committee 13 ― Civil Union and Marriage Issues.