Same-sex marriage is illegal in Minnesota but 70 United Methodist clergy in the state have signed a statement saying they will marry gay couples.
"We joyfully affirm that we will offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage," reads the statement introduced this week at the 2011 Minnesota Annual Conference.
"We are convinced by the witness of others and are compelled by Spirit and conscience to act. We thank the many United Methodists who have already called for full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of the Church."
The Rev. Bruce Robbins, pastor of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, read the statement to clergy Wednesday during a time of personal privilege, the United Methodist News Service reported. By the end the day, 40 clergy members had signed the statement. As of Friday, the number of signers reached 70.
"We repent that it has taken us so long to act," continues the statement, entitled "Equality for All in Christian Marriage."
"We realize that our church’s discriminatory policies tarnish the witness of the Church to the world, and we are complicity. We value our covenant relationships and ask everyone to hold the divided community of the United Methodist Church in prayer."
The United Methodist Church holds that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching. The denomination affirmed its stance at its latest legislative meeting in 2008 despite calls by some to change the body’s constitution.
In 2009, UMC’s top court also ruled that clergy, active and retired, cannot perform same-sex marriages or civil unions. The ruling came after more than 80 retired clergy from northern California said they would conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies on behalf of clergy who cannot perform them.
Bishop Sally Dyck said that simply making a statement in support of same-sex unions did not break any denominational rules. But she indicated that officiating at a gay wedding would be a chargeable offense, according to UMNS.
Under the 2008 Book of Discipline, same-sex unions are not to be conducted by United Methodist ministers or in its churches. Clergy who are convicted of officiating a homosexual union would face revocation of conference membership or clergy credentials.
The voluntary statement was open to any United Methodist persons in the Minnesota Conference who conducts Christian marriages, and was not endorsed by the denomination's General Conference.