PC(USA) Pensions Board Proceeds Cautiously with Domestic Partner Benefits

The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is considering a recommendation to extend spousal and dependent benefits to same-gender domestic partners.

The board is hoping to bring proposals next year and begin implementing changes to the denomination's Benefits Plan in 2012.

Thomas C. Paisley, Jr., chair of the Board of Directors of the Board of Pensions, said they are committed to "responding affirmatively to the action of the General Assembly, with a focus on doing what is in the best interests of our members and being attentive to the concerns of our participating employing organizations," as reported by the Presbyterian News Service.

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Earlier this month, PC(USA)'s highest legislative body voted to urge the Board of Pensions to modify its policies in providing same-gender spouses and domestic partners of church personnel the same benefits that married members receive.

The resolution wasn't passed without debate.

Some argued that the denomination has advocated for civil and legal rights for homosexual persons for decades and called out the PC(USA) for its inconsistency.

"Since 1977, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessor denominations have called for protection against social and economic discrimination based upon a person's sexual orientation. It is hypocritical for the church to exempt itself and its adherents from the principles of equal protection that we are urging government agencies and businesses to adopt," the Presbytery of New Castle stated in its proposed resolution.

Others, however, said extending benefits would signify an approval of homosexuality.

The Rev. Harry Hughes of New Castle Presbytery said approving the resolution "would validate same-sex relationships in violation of church policy and Scripture" and would also "increase the level of conflict and division" in the PC(USA), as reported by the denomination's news service.

The resolution was passed in a 366-287 vote. It includes a provision urging the Board of Pensions to also provide "relief of conscience" "for those congregations for whom these actions cause a moral dilemma."

A similar provision is currently in place for employers who object as a matter of conscience to the coverage of abortion procedures in the Medical Plan. As of December 2009, there were 500 churches on the relief of conscience roll.

The Board of Pensions, which is funded by constitutionally mandated dues from congregations, was encouraged this month to carefully and thoroughly consider the recommendation to provide domestic partner benefits.

"There are many complexities associated with this matter, and they must be considered in depth before the Board takes any action," said Paisley.

The Benefits Plan of the PC(USA) was established to provide retirement, disability, death, medical, and optional benefits to members of the Benefits Plan, their eligible dependents, and beneficiaries. Currently, the Board of Pensions is serving more than 50,000 ministers, other church workers, and their dependents who participate in the Benefits Plan.

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