Censured minister celebrates Presbyterian ruling on gay marriage

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    PC: San Francisco resident Rev. Jane Spahr, 67, a retired Presbyterian minister, is once again facing charges in a church tribunal for marrying same sex couples. Spahr was acquitted by the church on the same charge in 2008. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat 2010

Sitting with her granddaughter in a San Francisco park on Friday, the Rev. Jane Spahr was reveling in a landmark decision by the Presbyterian Church (USA) regarding the marriage of same-sex couples.

"Justice and love became friends this day," said Spahr, 71, a lesbian activist who defied the mainline Protestant denomination's laws by repeatedly marrying gay couples.

Spahr's first trial before a church tribunal, which attracted national attention, was held at Church of the Roses in Santa Rosa in 2006.

She was ultimately acquitted in that case, then tried again in 2010 at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Napa and ultimately convicted by the church's highest court.

Spahr was issued a rebuke — the mildest penalty under church law — but an assembly of North Coast Presbyterian leaders refused to impose it on a 74-18 vote in 2012.

At the Presbyterians' biennial General Assembly in Detroit on Thursday, church representatives voted 61 percent to 39 percent to allow pastors to preside over same-sex weddings in California and the 18 other states and District of Columbia where the unions are legal.

That decision is final, while a 71 percent to 29 percent vote to redefine marriage in the church constitution as a "unique commitment between two people" requires ratification by a majority of the denomination's 172 regional bodies, called presbyteries.

The Presbyterian constitution, called the Book of Order, says marriage is between a man and a woman, a law church prosecutors and Spahr's critics said she openly violated.

Spahr never denied her actions, calling as witnesses in her trials couples she had married and asserting that she had acted out of "conscience and conviction."

Sharp differences over homosexuality have roiled the Presbyterian Church (USA) for more than three decades, contributing to an exodus of members "seeking a more conservative home," according to the denomination's website.

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