GA 2010: General Assembly tables overtures that would have allowed pastors to perform same-gender marriages

MINNEAPOLIS — Eight overtures that would have empowered Presbyterian pastors to perform marriages for same-gender couples in states where these marriages are legal were effectively tabled with little discussion in a late-night session of the full 219th General Assembly July 8.

            The exhaustion of commissioners and staff showed when the assembly was allowed to make amendments that rendered a motion and its substitute effectively the same … one to accept the final report of the special committee with the minority report attached, and another to accept the minority report of the special committee with the final report attached.  The Assembly supported the main motion, voting 439-208 to send the final report of the special committee, with the minority report attached, to presbyteries for further study.

            This was a significant departure from the recommendation of the 219th General Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage, which debated both reports at length earlier in the week, and referred just the majority report, with minor amendments, to the full Assembly, with a margin of 47-8.

            The action on the final and minority reports had far-reaching effects when a deft parliamentary move by Ryan Balsan of New Brunswick Presbytery put forth a successful substitute motion to answer overtures 12-02, 12-03, 12-04, 12-07, and 12-10, which would have changed the Directory for Worship of the Book of Order to allow marriage to be between “two people” rather than a man and a woman, and overtures 12-06, 12-08 and 12-09, which would have provided an authoritative interpretation to allow marriages between “two people.”

            Balsan argued that approving any of the overtures that would allow marriages between same-gender couples would prejudice congregations’ study of the final report.

            “Make space for discernment on this issue,” he said.

            Karen Chamis of Elizabeth Presbytery argued against the notion that the study precluded the approval of overtures that would allow same-gender marriages in the meantime, comparing the issue with her session’s approach to dealing with raccoons in the attic of their church.

            “We are going to call an exterminator, but we’ll also study the issue to try to find a way to keep the raccoons out,” she said.  “There are times when we need to do both things.  And somehow, we’re adults, we handle it, and we get the work done.”

            The substitute motion, to let the action in 12-12 be considered the response to all pending items coming from Committee 12, was approved 348-324.

            At the close of the Civil Union and Marriage Committee’s report, the assembly engaged in silent prayer, followed by a prayer from Moderator Cynthia Bolbach, who said, “We are not winners or losers, we are just trying to figure out where our denomination is headed.  We ask your blessing as we move ahead in this conversation.  Amen.”