PCUSA Considers Exemption for Same-Sex Benefits Expansion

The General Assembly of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has suggested adding an exemption to its Board of Pensions' proposed expansion of benefits for qualified same-sex couples.

Andrew Browne, vice president and corporate secretary of the Board of Pensions, wrote in a letter to employing organizations that the creation of a "mechanism" to exempt those who may take issue with expanding pension benefits to same-sex couples is being considered.

"The Board of Pensions continues to take seriously the General Assembly's urging to design a mechanism to relieve the conscience of those for whom this coverage creates a moral dilemma," wrote Browne.

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"As a first step in the process of developing a relief of conscience program, the Board of Pensions is providing the opportunity for churches and other employing organizations to formally declare their objection to extending benefits to qualified domestic partners and their children."

In March, the PC(USA) Board of Pensions approved a measure that expanded spousal and child benefits to same-sex couples which would take effect on Jan. 1, 2013. To qualify, a couple must verify their relationship with a license or certificate proving a civil marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership. The benefits will be given to same-sex couples on the same basis as heterosexual couples in the PC(USA).

Many voiced concern about the board's decision, including Paul Detterman, executive director of the conservative Presbyterians for Renewal and consultant for the Fellowship of Presbyterians.

"We feel that it was not a necessary move because there are other options available. But it is a decision they made and we do feel that it was wrong," said Detterman in an earlier interview with CP.

"We have heard a very strong response already from congregations that are very upset with it."

At present, neither the board nor the General Assembly has proposed a specific plan for exemption, as Browne wrote in his letter that the board "will need more information."

"[S]imply replicating the current relief of conscience process for abortion-related expenses under the Benefits Plan, where dues streams are separated, would not provide an effective solution in this situation," wrote Browne.

The PC(USA) Board of Pensions will formally present their expanded benefits program at the 220th General Assembly meeting in Pittsburgh, which opens this weekend.

Other issues that the 220th General Assembly will hear about involve its denomination's definition of marriage, which according to its constitution is defined as being between "a woman and a man."

Some overtures have been made by various Presbyteries in the PC(USA) to amend the definition to read "two people" while others have made overtures to keep the language as it stands.

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