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Decision No. 764

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October 26 1995
In Re: Review of Bishop's Decision of Law in the California-Pacific Conference as to Constitutionality of Definition of Self-avowed Practicing Homosexual.

Digest of Case

On June 17, 1995, the California-Pacific Conference of The United Methodist Church received from a task force created by the Board of Ordained Ministry the following proposed definition of the phrase, "self-avowed practicing homosexual:" A self-avowed practicing homosexual is one who makes it known by affirming publicly that she/he engages in genital sexual behavior with a person of the same gender. "Self-avowed" means a self-initiated, voluntary statement in normal public discourse. "Self-avowed" does not mean a statement in private conversation or in confidence, or a statement under duress or in response to a direct question. Conversations, correspondence, and statements with or to the Bishop, District Superintendents, Board of Ordained Ministry (and its committees and officers), and district Committees on Ordained Ministry (and their committees and officers) cannot be assumed to be private and confidential. "Practicing" does not mean behavior such as friendship or persons living together as roommates, socializing or meeting with homosexuals, or speaking in support of or agreement with homosexuality. During the course of the discussion, the conference amended the proposal by deleting the paragraph beginning, with "Conversations, correspondences, and statements. . ." The amended proposed definition was adopted. On June 18, 1995, a request for ruling by the presiding bishop, Roy I. Sano, was submitted in accordance with provisions in Par. 2613. The five questions in the request are as follows: 1. Is the definition of "self-avowed practicing homosexual" adopted by this Annual Conference on June 17, 1995 in violation of Judicial Council Memorandum 722 in that it does not "address the question of to whom the avowal shall be made so that identification is not dependent on the testimony of others"? 2. Is the definition of "self-avowed practicing homosexual" passed by this Annual Conference on June 17, 1995 inadequate in that it fails to require that the clergy person who makes an avowal of having engaged in "genital sexual behavior with a person of the same gender" willfully and/or intentionally engaged in that act? 3. Is the definition of "self-avowed practicing homosexual passed by this Annual Conference on June 17, 1995 in violation of the Constitution in that by creating a behaviorally described definition of "genital sexual behavior" (emphasis added) it makes application of this definition dependent upon a "status" in violation of Paragraph 4 and/or Paragraph 15.14 of the Constitution? 4. Is the definition of "self-avowed practicing homosexual" passed by this Annual Conference on June 17, 1995 in violation of Judicial Council Decision 544 as affirmed in Judicial Council Decision 702 in that the definition includes in its definition of "practice" activities which are consistent with "celibacy in singleness" if done by a heterosexual clergy person? 5. Is the sentence in Paragraph 402.2 "Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church" for which this Annual Conference adopted a definition of "self-avowed practicing homosexual" on June 17, 1995 contrary to Judicial Council Decision 736 in that it mandates or directs action of constitutional or disciplinary officers or bodies in the discharge of their duties, namely the Bishop, District Superintendents, Board of Ordained Ministry, and Trial Court? The bishop "ruled that the definition of 'self-avowed practicing homosexual' adopted by the 1995 Session of the California-Pacific Annual Conference does not violate The 1992 Book of Discipline." We have clearly set forth in Memorandum No. 722, that "... an adequate definition of "self-avowed" must address the question of to whom the avowal shall be made so that identification is not dependent on the testimony of others." The failure of the proposed definition to include such identification renders the definition invalid. For this reason, it is unnecessary to address the other questions presented. The bishop's ruling is reversed. This copy subject to final editing and correction.

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