The Rev. David Meredith, left, and the Rev. Austin Adkinson sing during a gathering of those in the LGBTQ community and their allies outside the Charlotte Convention Center, in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, May 2, 2024 Source: AP Photo/Peter Smith

United Methodist Delegates Repeal Their Church's Ban on Its Clergy Celebrating Same-sex Marriages

Peter Smith READ TIME: 3 MIN.

United Methodist delegates on Friday repealed their church's longstanding ban on the celebrations of same-sex marriages or unions by its clergy and in its churches.

The action marked the final major reversal of a collection of LGBTQ bans and disapprovals that have been embedded throughout the laws and social teachings of the United Methodist Church over the previous half-century.

The 447-233 vote by the UMC's General Conference came one day after delegates overwhelmingly voted to repeal a 52-year-old declaration that the practice of homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching" and two days after they repealed the denomination's ban on LGBTQ clergy.

It's the UMC's first legislative gathering since 2019, one that featured its most progressive slate of delegates in memory following the departure of more than 7,600 mostly conservative congregations in the United States because it essentially stopped enforcing its bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ ordination.

The delegates voted to repeal a section in their Book of Discipline, or church law, that states: "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."

Clergy will neither be required nor prohibited from performing any marriage, according to existing law that the conference affirmed with minor revisions Friday.

On Thursday, delegates approved Revised Social Principles, or statements of the church's values. In addition to removing the language about homosexuality being "incompatible with Christian teaching," that revision also defined marriage as a covenant between two adults, without limiting it to heterosexual couples, as the previous version had done.

But while Social Principles are non-binding, the clause removed on Friday had the force of law.

Regional conferences outside the United States have the ability to set their own rules, however, so churches in Africa and elsewhere with more conservative views on sexuality could retain bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. A pending amendment to the church constitution would also enable the U.S. region to make such adaptations.

The change doesn't mandate or even explicitly affirm same-sex marriages. But it removes their prohibition. It takes effect Saturday following the close of General Conference.

The Rev. Rebecca Girrell of Vermont told fellow delegates that she regretted having initially declined a request to perform a same-sex marriage because of church rules. "I promised I would never betray my heart or my call to offer ministry and grace to all persons again," she said.

Later, she said she did defy church rules and performed the same-sex wedding for two military servicemen before their deployment. "You will never convince me that that was wrong," she said.

But Samuel Cole from Liberia urged the conference not to approve the measure, saying it would not be accepted in other parts of the world and adding that only a man and a woman can produce children.

A temporary window opened in 2019 that enabled American churches to leave with their properties, normally held by the denomination, under more favorable than normal terms. While the conference voted against extending that window to international churches, the conference votes could still prompt departures of some international churches through different means – particularly in Africa, where conservative sexual values prevail and where same-sex activity is criminalized in some countries.

Separately, the General Conference on Friday removed language making it a chargeable offense for clergy to be a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" or perform same-sex marriages – similar to previous repeals but affecting a different part of church law. There was some debate because the measure also removed other chargeable offenses, such as being unfaithful in marriage, but proponents said there are other parts of the Book of Discipline that allow the church to discipline ministers for immorality.

by Peter Smith

Read These Next