In response to urging from the 2010 Assembly, the PC(USA)’s Board of Pensions (BOP) has announced that it will extend the same spousal and dependent benefits to same-gender domestic partners as it does to married plan members, effective Jan. 1, 2013.

The BOP was also urged by the Assembly to design a relief of conscience mechanism for those who object on moral grounds to the extension of spousal and child benefits to qualified domestic partners of Benefits Plan members.

In a letter to employing organizations, the board wrote: “Once the Board has enrollment and claims experience with the newly enrolled population, it will be able to take steps to design an effective mechanism. As a first step, the Board is giving churches and other employing organizations the opportunity to formally declare their objection to this extension of benefits.”  

Once the BOP knows how many employers would seek coverage-objection status in this matter, it will determine “the next steps in designing an effective relief of conscience mechanism.”

Stockton Presbytery has submitted an overture seeking to amend the Book of Order provision (g-2.0804) mandating church pastors’ participation in the BOP benefits plan so that “any installed teaching elder or minister who objects on theological grounds, as a matter of conscience, to provisions of the Benefits Plan of the PC(USA) shall have the freedom to have the session reallocate the amount equivalent to the cost of participation in that benefits plan to provide for similar benefits through a third-party provider” separate from the PC(USA).

Matters related to same-gender domestic partner benefits will be considered by Assembly Committee 20 ― Board of Pensions, Foundation and Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

That committee will also consider an overture from Washington Presbytery that would direct “the Board of Pensions to provide a medical benefits plan that will not pay for abortions, except that any procedure necessary to save the physical life of the woman will be covered.”

The BOP has responded to the overture that it “administers the Benefits Plan … consistent with the normative values of the PC(USA), which affirm the right of a woman to make good moral choices in regard to problem pregnancies.” The church’s abortion policy also states that “abortion should not be used as a method of birth control, for gender selection only, or solely to obtain fetal parts for transplantation.”

The BOP devised a “relief of conscience” process ― which was approved by the 1992 General Assembly ― that segregates the dues of employing organizations conscientiously opposed to abortion to ensure those dues will not be used to  pay for abortions.