Church Won't Punish Minister For Gay Wedding

Nancy McConn, left, and Brenda Cole were married by the Rev. Janet Edwards in June 2005.
Nancy McConn, left, and Brenda Cole were married by the Rev. Janet Edwards in June 2005. (Photos By Andrew Rush -- Associated Press)
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2006

Citing a procedural error, a tribunal of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) dismissed all charges yesterday against a Pittsburgh minister who was accused of violating the church's rules by conducting a marriage ceremony for two women.

The Rev. Janet Edwards, 56, said she was relieved, but also disappointed not to have her day in church court.

"Scripture teaches me that the heart of marriage is the love and commitment between the partners. Life has taught me that gay and lesbian partners can show as much love and commitment as anyone else," she said. "I was really eager to make that case."

Edwards, a Presbyterian minister for 29 years, presided over a June 2005 wedding ceremony for Nancy McConn, a Presbyterian, and Brenda Cole, a Buddhist. If Edwards had been found guilty, she could have faced penalties ranging from a rebuke to revocation of her ordination.

But as her trial was to begin, the eight-member tribunal, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Pittsburgh Presbytery, ruled that an investigating committee had not brought the charges in time. The committee was appointed on Sept. 8, 2005, and filed the accusations on Sept. 12, 2006 -- after the one-year deadline set by church law, the panel said.

Like many other Protestant denominations, the 3 million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been wrestling for decades over homosexuality. In 1978, its governing General Assembly declared that gay men and lesbians "must be treated with the profound respect and pastoral tenderness due all people of God." In 1991, the same body ruled that same-sex marriage ceremonies are "not sanctioned" and "not proper."

Edwards said she interprets the 1991 ruling as "cautionary words" rather than a ban of same-sex weddings. She acknowledged that many Presbyterians disagree. But she said that both sides have tried to pass General Assembly resolutions clarifying the situation, and neither has succeeded.

While the case against Edwards is moot, similar charges are pending against the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr of San Rafael, Calif., who has conducted hundreds of same-sex ceremonies since 1974.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company