Local members of United Methodist Church vote to allow same-sex unions

The Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church narrowly approved a groundbreaking same-sex marriage resolution Saturday, setting the stage for a high-stakes vote on the matter at the national conference next year.

The resolution, passed at the church’s annual local conference, would amend the church’s Book of Discipline to allow pastors to perform same-sex marriages and ceremonies in member churches in jurisdictions where legislatures already have approved gay marriage laws, such as the District.

Before taking effect, the measure requires approval from a majority of the 1,000 delegates at the General Conference next April in Tampa.

About 800 members from 650 churches in the District and parts of Maryland and West Virginia participated in the vote Saturday, said Shaun Lane, communications director for the Baltimore-Washington Conference. The show-of-hands vote was close enough that members were asked to vote a second time, Lane said.

The outcome surprised and delighted members of Washington’s Foundry United Methodist, which developed the resolution but did not expect it to be approved, said Rev. Dean Snyder. Of Foundry’s 1,300 members, roughly one-fourth to one-third are openly homosexual, Sndyer said.

“We presented the resolution as an occasion to have a conversation. Frankly, I didn’t think it would pass,” Snyder said. “This is very exciting, very moving.”

A call and e-mail to a spokeswoman for the national United Methodist Church organization were not returned Saturday.

The resolution states that: “[I]n those civil jurisdictions where homosexual persons have been granted the right to same gender marriage or civil union, ceremonies celebrating those marriages or unions may be conducted in our churches and by our ministers, the decision being the right and responsibility of the pastor.”

Ann Birkel, head of Foundry’s advocacy team on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, said the group presented the resolution to a smaller group of Baltimore-Washington conference leaders in February asking for an endorsement. But that group voted 36-22 not to support the measure.

Asked whether Foundry faced an uphill battle to win final approval next year, Birkel said: “We believe that more and more Christians are examining the issue and realizing that it is truly a civil rights issue and that members of our denomination are just as deserving of support of their church communities and their commitments to each other. It’s an idea whose time has come. ”

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