- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

The National Capital Presbytery here yesterday became the 23rd regional body in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to reject a national rule banning same-sex "unions."

In a national process to ratify the ban, 23 presbyteries so far have opposed it, while 11 have given assent.

But the research arm of the 2.6 million-member denomination predicts that the traditional view will win a required majority before all 173 presbyteries cast their votes.

"The debate was quite civil," said the Rev. Christopher Yim, who yesterday tallied the 223-89 vote of the National Capital Presbytery. "We had the familiar arguments about justice and the interpretation of Scripture."

The amendment, which would be added to the church "Book of Worship," states that no church property or officer shall conduct "any ceremony or event that pronounces blessing or gives approval of the church or invokes the blessing of God upon" any unions but heterosexual marriage.

The measure, called Amendment O, was sent to the presbyteries by a 268-251 vote of the church's General Assembly after the church's top court ruled last summer that a same-sex "union" did not break rules if it was not called a "marriage."

By the end of March, all 173 presbyteries will have voted on the amendment. A majority, or 87, will put the rule in church law.

"The question before the church is whether it will uphold the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman," said Parker Williamson, editor of the Presbyterian Layman, a conservative bimonthly. "Could you think of anything more innocuous?"

But he said that any rules about heterosexual fidelity among clergy and marriage draw fire from homosexual-advocacy groups in the denomination.

Another wing of the church, opposing the more traditional amendments, says they would take autonomy away from ministers, congregations and presbyteries.

The Covenant Network of Presbyterians' advocacy newsletter this month urged defeat of Amendment O.

"While we are not all of one mind on the issue of 'holy unions,' we do firmly assert that Amendment O raises significant constitutional concerns" of limiting "the traditional rights and responsibilities exercised by sessions and ministers," said a letter by 19 moderators, or annual church leaders of the General Assembly.

"Sessions will certainly choose to address the issue of holy unions in different ways," they said.

They said the ban might forbid baptism of a child adopted by a homosexual couple, or forbid the presence of clergy at a "union service" or funeral of a homosexual partner.

The National Capital Presbytery, which includes churches in the District, Maryland and Virginia, has been active in trying to liberalize church policy.

Beside rejecting Amendment O yesterday, the presbytery also voted to send "overtures," or resolutions, urging the church General Assembly in June to allow a "local option" in calling ministers and to delete a national "chastity and fidelity" rule for clergy.

Both overtures emphasized the freedom of a minister or church to determine who to ordain or "marry" regardless of sexual orientation or living style.

At the General Assembly in July, the presbytery issued a dissenting minority report on same-sex unions that advocated the "long-standing tradition of valuing the discretion of pastors and sessions in ordering worship and pastoral care." It was rejected 273-247.

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