Former minister: ‘overwhelming feeling of gratitude’ in wake of court’s decision

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Jane Spahr, the former Presbyterian minister who defied the mainline Protestant denomination’s laws by repeatedly marrying gay couples, voiced “an overwhelming feeling of gratitude” Friday in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.

“It’s beyond words,” said Spahr. “When I woke up this morning and said ‘my dear God, that this day should happen in our lifetime.’ To know the number of couples and people who have worked years and years for this day.”

Spahr, 72, said she has married “hundreds and hundreds” of gay couples, something that put her at odds with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and led to her trial before a church tribunal.

The first trial, at the Church of the Roses in Santa Rosa in 2006, attracted national attention.

She was acquitted in that case, but was tried again in 2010 at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Napa before ultimately being convicted by the church’s highest court.

Spahr was given a rebuke, the most mild penalty under church law, but an assembly of North Coast Presbyterian leaders declined to impose it on a 74-18 vote in 2012.

Two years later, church representatives voted to allow pastors to preside over same sex weddings in California and 18 other states and the District of Columbia, where the unions are legal.

Spahr is now retired from the ministry but continues to officiate at weddings, baptisms and funerals.

In a telephone interview Friday from San Diego where she was about to perform another wedding — in this case between a straight couple — Spahr said the Supreme Court decision was “another victory for humanity, to see one another as people and together to try and make the world a better place.”

Spahr, a lesbian activist and mother of two sons who counts her former husband as one of her strongest supporters, said the ruling means “no more second class” for gay couples, a status that can invite feelings and acts of violence.

“It’s so much bigger than LGBT. It’s about breaking down the oppressive system that keeps us apart from one another ... that keeps people from seeing each other as they are,” she said.

The gratitude she was feeling Friday, she said, was “toward all those people who gave so much of their time and lives for advocacy, so we could be recognized and seen as equal.”

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas.

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