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Church: Calif. minister guilty for marrying gays

By LISA LEFF, Associated Press

spahrSAN FRANCISCO -- A retired Presbyterian minister was found guilty of misconduct Friday by a church court for officiating the weddings of 16 gay couples when same-sex marriage was legal in California.

A regional commission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ruled 4-2 that the Rev. Jane Spahr of San Francisco "persisted in a pattern or practice of disobedience" by performing the weddings in 2008 before Proposition 8 banned the unions in the state.

The church's highest court has held that Presbyterian ministers may bless same-sex unions as long as they do "not state, imply, or represent that a same-sex ceremony is a marriage."

By willfully challenging that holding, Spahr broke her ordination vows, the commission said in its majority opinion.

At the same time, however, the tribunal devoted most of its 2 1/2-page ruling to praising the 68-year-old pastor, a lesbian who founded a church group in the early 1990s for gay Presbyterians.

Spahr was acknowledged "for her prophetic ministry" and "faithful compassion. The commissioners called on the broader church to use her example "to re-examine our own fear and ignorance."

"In the reality in which we live today, marriage can be between same gender as well as opposite gender persons, and we, as a church, need to be able to respond to this reality as Dr. Jane Spahr has done with faithfulness and compassion," the ruling stated.

The six-member commission representing 54 Northern California churches censured Spahr with a rebuke as punishment. Spahr said she was disappointed by the verdict and would appeal to a midlevel church court.

"If you agree with me, then say yes," Spahr told The Associated Press. "It's like, 'Janie, we want this to happen and we affirm your ministry and we sustain the charges. The mixed message of that is the thing that people hear. We want the message of the Gospel, which is God's love is for all."

The decision followed a three-day trial in which Spahr's lawyers argued that her actions were inspired by Presbyterian teachings on diversity and inclusion.

It was the second time the regional Presbytery of the Redwoods convened a court to consider charges against Spahr for sanctioning same-sex relationships.

In 2006, a church court composed of different members ruled that she had acted within her rights as an ordained minister when she married two lesbian couples in 2004 and 2005.

Caption - In this April 28, 2008 file photo, Reverend Jane Spahr gestures during a news conference at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, Calif. Spahr will go on trial this week for officiating the weddings of same sex couples during the brief period when gay marriage was legal in California. Ben Margot, file / AP Photo

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