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Decision No. 845

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October 29 1998
In Re: Request From the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality of the Sentence "Ceremonies That Celebrate Homosexual Unions Shall Not Be Conducted by Our Ministers and Shall Not Be Conducted in Our Churches." ¶ 65.C of the 1996 Discipline) Request From the California-Nevada Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality of the Sentence "Ceremonies That Celebrate Homosexual Unions Shall Not Be Conducted by Our Ministers and Shall Not Be Conducted in Our Churches." ¶ 65.C of the 1996 Discipline)

Digest of Case

The concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C of the 1996 Discipline: "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." is constitutional.

Statement of Facts

On June 13, 1998 the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference passed a motion asking the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of the concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C. The request stated: We, the members of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, request that the Judicial Council, acting under the authority of Paragraph 2616, make a declaratory decision about the constitutionality of the sentence, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches," which was added to Paragraph 65.C of the Social Principles by the 1996 General Conference. We ask: 1. In the absence of a definition by the General Conference, does the ordinary meaning of the word "status" apply in Paragraphs 4 and 15.14 of the Constitution? 2. Does one's sexual orientation constitute a status? 3. Do the Constitutional provisions of Paragraphs 4 and 15.14 apply regardless of sexual orientation? 4. Can a class of people who are described only by their sexual orientation be denied a ministry of the church? The California-Nevada Annual Conference meeting in Sacramento California, June 17-21, 1998, requested a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of the sentence, Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches, which was added to Paragraph 65.C of the Social Principles by the 1996 General Conference. We ask: 1. Does one's sexual orientation constitute a status? 2. Do the Constitutional provisions of Paragraphs 4 and 15.14 apply regardless of sexual orientation? 3. Can a class of people who are described only by their sexual orientation be denied a ministry of the church? 4. Does the sentence conflict with Paragraph 16 of the Constitution? An oral hearing was held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, October 29, 1998. Jeanne Knepper appeared, representing the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Since the questions posed by the two Annual Conferences are basically the same, they shall be considered together. Both requests for declaratory decisions seek a determination of the constitutionality of the concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C of the 1996 Discipline: Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches. under ¶¶ 4 and 15.14 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. Par. 4 of the Constitution states: Article IV. Inclusiveness of the Church—The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. Therefore all persons, without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, to participate in its programs, and, when they take the appropriate vows, to be admitted into its membership in any local church in the connection. In The United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition. Par. 15.14 of the Constitution states: Article IV.—The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: 14. To secure the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status. The California-Nevada Annual Conference also challenges the constitutionality of the sentence in question under Paragraph 16 of the Constitution, which states: Article I—The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine. Par. 4 of the Constitution first seeks to ensure that "all persons, without regard to race, color, national origin, status or economic condition" ...shall be able to attend worship services in the United Methodist churches. There is nothing in the concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C which prohibits any person from attending worship services in our churches. The second provision of ¶ 4 is that all persons, without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible...to participate in the programs of The United Methodist Church. There is nothing in the concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C which bars any person from participating in the programs of the Church. The third guarantee of ¶ 4 is that all persons who take the appropriate vows shall be admitted into membership in The United Methodist Church. There is nothing in the concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C which prevents any persons from becoming members of The United Methodist Church. The fourth provision of ¶ 4 is that: No conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition. The concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C has nothing to do with structuring any conference or organizational unit of the Church. The concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C of the 1996 Discipline does not violate any of the provisions of ¶ 4 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church, and is, therefore, constitutional under this paragraph. Par. 15.14 of the Constitution provides that the General Conference has the authority: To secure the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status. As indicated previously, there is nothing in the concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C of the 1996 Discipline which abrogates the rights and privileges of any person to membership in The United Methodist Church. There is, therefore, no constitutional violation of ¶ 15.14 in the concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C of the 1996 Discipline. The California-Nevada Annual Conference challenges the constitutionality of the concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C of the 1996 Discipline under ¶ 16 of the Constitution. Par. 16 of the Constitution provides that: The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine. In Decision 833 the Judicial Council declared: The General Conference under the Constitution has the following specific power and authority as stated therein: ¶ 15. The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: 2. To define and fix the powers and duties of elders, deacons... In that decision the Judicial Council went on to state: In accordance with these powers and authority the General Conference adopted the amendment to ¶ 65.C. After a review of the legislative history related to the adoption of the sentence: Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches. the Judicial Council declared that the General Conference acted within its power and authority in passing the amendment, and declared it to be legally binding on our ministers. Nothing has been presented to the Judicial Council to cause it to reach a different conclusion in the instant cases before it. Based on the foregoing analysis, the Judicial Council declares that the concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C of the 1996 Discipline is constitutional. In regard to the issue of whether sexual orientation constitutes a status, this council said in Decision 702 that the word "status" must be defined by either the General Conference or by the various Annual Conferences. (See Decision 702) In this decision the council declares that for the sake of consistency the word "status" must be defined by the General Conference. We strongly urge the General Conference of 2000 to define the word "status" as it relates to sexual orientation. Having reached that decision, the specific questions raised by the two Annual Conferences need not be further addressed, as no rights and privileges belonging to any member of The United Methodist Church have been abrogated.

Decision

The concluding sentence of ¶ 65.C of the 1996 Discipline: "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." is constitutional.

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