Saturday, July 10, 2010

Extending Benefits to Same-Gender Spouses; Marriage

Here are the Presbyterian News Service articles on the General Assembly votes to direct the Board of Pensions to extend benefits to same-gender spouses and domestic partners and the marriage votes (photo by Danny Bolin).

Assembly approves benefits for same-gender households, Presbyterian News Service
The 219th General Assembly (2010) today urged the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Board of Pensions (BOP) to extend equal spousal and dependent benefits to same-gender domestic partners as it does to married plan members...

Many supporters agreed with Kati Chan, a Young Adult Advisory Delegate from San Francisco Presbytery, that extending benefits to same-gender households “is a matter of social and financial equality. … We have advocated equality for years. Why not practice it with those in our own churches?”

Opponents argued against the proposal on theological and financial grounds.
The Rev. Harry Hughes of New Castle Presbytery said approval of same-gender benefits “would validate same-sex relationships in violation of church policy and Scripture,” adding that the measure would “increase the level of conflict and division” in the PC(USA).

To address concerns that the added benefit would create a moral dilemma for some church employers, the resolution includes a provision urging the BOP to create a “relief of conscience” fund to segregate dues of employers who are conscientiously opposed to same-gender benefits. The board has a similar provision for employers who object to their dues being used to pay for abortion procedures.

Noting that the measure would raise BOP dues to 32.5 percent of effective salary, the Rev. Faith Jongewaard of Mission Presbytery said, “I’m in a church of 725 members and we could probably afford this, but a lot of small churches can’t, so this is also a justice issue for them.”

Commissioners seemed persuaded by arguments like that of the Rev. John Vest of Chicago Presbytery. “This is not about [gay] ordination or marriage,” he said. “It’s about employers who don’t give and employees who don’t get the same benefits.”

By a voice vote, the Assembly rejected a commissioners’ resolution that would have banned abortion as a covered BOP benefit. Andrew Browne, the board’s corporate secretary, said $11,000 out of $106 million in medical benefit payments last year went for abortions.
The 219th General Assembly maintains current definition of marriage, Presbyterian News Service
The 219th General Assembly (2010) voted Thursday night to maintain the current definition of marriage — between a man and a woman — in its Constitution.

Just prior to the Assembly’s action, the body accepted the recommendation of the General Assembly Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee to approve the report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage by a vote of 439-208. The Assembly decided to send both the special committee report and the minority report generated by three members of the special committee to the larger church for study after a motion to replace the final report with the minority report was defeated, 358-311.

Following that action was a parliamentary maneuver that resulted in the Assembly voting to let the approval of the special committee report “answer all pending items” on the remaining Assembly committee’s list of overtures that included changing the definition of marriage to “two people,” giving pastors and sessions discretion in deciding who may marry and whether they may use church property for the ceremony.

The vote was 348-324, with six commissioners abstaining.

Audible gasps were heard on the floor of the Assembly, and many commissioners and observers burst into applause as the result of the close vote (51%-49%) flashed on overhead screens at the Minneapolis Convention Center. 

The overtures, which were never considered by the full Assembly, had passed the Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues by approximately 2-to-1 margins.

The Rev. Ryan Balsan of New Brunswick Presbytery, who moved that the study should answer the overtures, said he did not want those overtures to prejudice the study process.

“The church was not yet ready to make a decision,” said 219th General Assembly Moderator Cindy Bolbach during a press conference following adjournment. “This kind of thing happens at every assembly.”

While many people will see the vote simply as winning or losing — “that’s human nature,” the Moderator said — Bolbach said more helpful thinking involves “trying to figure out where God is leading the church. Women’s ordination took us years and years to decide.”

At the same event, the Rev. Rick Nutt, moderator of the Assembly committee, said that “it would have been interesting” to discuss the overtures on the Assembly floor, “but the will of the Assembly is to pursue those issues in conversation,” meaning allowing churches and presbyteries to study the two reports.

Acknowledging the complexity of the decision to send both reports to the church-at-large, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly the Rev. Gradye Parsons said, “We’re going to have to draft a pretty good cover letter.”

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