The highest judicial commission of the Louisville-based Presbyterian Church (USA) cleared last week a New Jersey pastor who married her same-sex partner in Massachusetts, stating that she was allowed to get married, but not to officiate a same-sex wedding.
The Rev. Laurie McNeill married her partner, Lisa Lynn Golligue in 2009 at an Episcopal Church on Cape Cod, which was presided over by ministers from the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ. Although from New Jersey, the couple had to travel to Massachusetts for the ceremony, where same-sex marriage is legal.
"There is no evidence in the record that a PC(U.S.A.) minister conducted a same-gender ceremony under the facts of this case. In fact, the parties stipulated that 'No Presbyterian minister of Word and Sacrament officiated in any part of the marriage ceremony,'" the court ruled.
Official Presbyterian Church law does not allow for clergy to officiate same-sex weddings, but the court decided that since McNeill was the one who exchanged vows, and the ceremony was not at a Presbyterian church, that she has not breached church doctrine and cannot be sanctioned. The issue has been a matter of great debate in the Presbyterian body, with the General Assembly earlier this year narrowly deciding to maintain the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Another aspect of the McNeill case was that the court ruled there was no evidence of the lesbian couple engaging in sexual activity, which the church stands against – despite it being evident that the couple is living together in New York. After she announced her marriage to her congregation, McNeill was forced to leave her Central Presbyterian Church in Montclair, although she now works in a New York state ministry, The Courier-Journal reported.
"I think the congregation could have lived with me being gay," McNeill said. "Announcing I was married pushed it over the edge."
McNeill had vowed at her ordination to fulfill her office in obedience to the Scriptures and to be instructed by the Presbyterian Confessions, but has said that she anticipated charges being brought up against her after she decided to marry her partner.
Prosecuting attorney Whit Brisky shared his disappointment with the court's decision, noting:
"As a Christian attorney, I look to Scripture to find God's truth. Unfortunately, many orthodox Presbyterians have left the denomination, giving the Progressives who are left more influence. I see my responsibility as first, standing up for the truth of Scripture, and second, supporting those orthodox who still remain."
The lawyer added that this ruling makes it possible for others to breach other aspects of Presbyterian law on a technicality issue.
"Another implication of this decision is that since the Commission has limited the Directory of Worship, including its definition of marriage, to Presbyterian worship services only, Presbyterian Teaching Elders can now freely conduct same-sex 'weddings' in UCC or Episcopal worship services, can bless weddings in the name of Allah rather than that of the Triune God, and can depart from the baptismal formula of 'Father, Son, and Holy Spirit' as long as it is not in a Presbyterian worship service," Brisky said.