The Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA released a statement that clarified the denomination’s stance against blessing same-sex unions, on May 20, 2004.
It is “not proper for a minister to perform a same-sex union ceremony that the minister determines to be the same as a marriage ceremony. Similarly, a session should not allow the use of church facilities for such a ceremony,” the statement from the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA read.
The statement was made in reply to a series of questions that arose after the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission dismissed and appeal filed by the Presbytery of Cincinnati, which was seeking to overturn a ruling made in favor of same-sex “marriage” blessings.
On April 30, the Covenant of the Synod Permanent Judicial Commission ruled that the denomination’s constitution, the General Assembly’s authoritative interpretations and the rulings of its highest court do not prohibit ministers from conducting marriage services for homosexual couples.
Immediately after this ruling, the Presbytery of Cincinnati made an appeal, and asked that the denomination’s high court restore the decision to remove the former minister Stephen Van Kuiken- who renounced the PCUSA’s Book of Order by repeatedly conducted same-sex “marriages” – from the church.
However, before the appeal was made, Van Kuiken had already voluntarily relinquished his ordination in the PCUSA, and left to pastor an independent congregation of people outside of the denomination.
Therefore, Laurie Griffith, the judicial process manager for the OGA dismissed the appeal, since Kuiken was no longer a Presbyterian minister.
Following the dismissal, the OGA “received questions about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s position on the issue of marriage and same-sex blessings,” and therefore issued the statement, which referred to Advisory Opinion #7, which was written by the OGA after the General Assembly issued a ruling in Benton v. Hudson River Presbytery.
Advisory Opinion #7, titled "Ceremonies Blessing Same-Sex Relationships," interpreted the Benton ruling to mean that Presbyterian ministers:
· "… may not utilize liturgies for Christian marriage or the recognition of civil marriage in ceremonies for same sex couples."
· "… may not perform a ceremony that they consider to be the same as a marriage ceremony nor may they permit their facilities to be utilized for any such ceremony."
· "… may provide pastoral care in the form of worship services that 'celebrate a loving, caring, and committed relationship' for same sex couples (Benton), but must also advise such couples that such a service does not constitute a marriage and may not be held out as such."
The last paragraph of Advisory Opinion #7 was a quote from Benton: "Such a same-sex ceremony does not bless any specific act, and this decision should not be construed as an endorsement of homosexual conjugal practice proscribed by the General Assembly."
The following is the OGA statement, as released by the PCUSA:
A Message from the Stated Clerk re: Same-Sex Blessings and Marriage
The Office of the General Assembly has received questions about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s position on the issue of marriage and same-sex blessings in light of a recent decision by the permanent judicial commission of the Synod of the Covenant.
A particular decision of a synod’s permanent judicial commission does not become an authoritative interpretation for or binding on the whole church. Authoritative interpretations can be made only by the General Assembly itself or by the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission.
The following is and remains the policy of the PC(USA) on this matter:
It is “not proper for a minister to perform a same-sex union ceremony that the minister determines to be the same as a marriage ceremony. Similarly, a session should not allow the use of church facilities for such a ceremony.” (Taken from advisory opinion #7)
This policy was affirmed in the case of Benton v. Hudson River Presbytery (General Assembly Minutes, 2000, Part I, p. 586).
Finally, the Directory for Worship in the Book of Order states that marriage is “a civil contract between a woman and a man” (W-4.9001).