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Decision No. 998

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October 28 2004
In Re: IN RE: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the North Georgia Annual Conference Concerning the Propriety of a Resolution Entitled “A Resolution From The South Georgia Annual Conference – Support for a Marriage Amendment to the Georgia Constitution” under the Discipline.

Digest of Case

The Bishop’s decision of law that a resolution in support of a marriage amendment to the Constitution of the State of Georgia did not violate ¶ 162H of the 2000 Discipline is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

During the June 18, 2004, session of the North Georgia Annual Conference, the Committee on Resolutions presented a resolution that had been adopted by the South Georgia Annual Conference. The resolution: 1) expressed “its support for laws which define marriage as existing only between one man and one woman,” 2) supported “passage of the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the State of Georgia” which recognized “as marriage only the union of man and woman” and declared that “[m]arriages between persons of the same sex are prohibited in this state.” The proposed amendment to the Constitution of the State of Georgia also provided: No union between persons of the same sex shall be recognized by this state as entitled to the benefits of marriage. This state shall not give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other state or jurisdiction respecting the relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other state or jurisdiction. The courts of this state shall have no jurisdiction to grant a divorce or separate maintenance with respect to any such relationship or otherwise to consider or rule on any of the parties’ respective rights arising as a result of or in connection with such relationship. 3) directed the Secretary of the South Georgia Annual Conference to “immediately send to the North Georgia Annual Conference a record of our action on this item, with the request that they join us in this action.” The North Georgia Annual Conference, adopted the resolution. A member of the Annual Conference then submitted the following written request during the annual conference session: Request for Bishop Lindsey Davis to rule on the legality of the petition approved by the 2004 Annual Conference as follows: Is the petition entitled “A Resolution from the South Georgia Annual Conference – Support for a Marriage Amendment to the Georgia Constitution” in violation of the 2000 Discipline, paragraph 162H? The Bishop issued his decision of law in writing on July 13, 2004, ruling that the resolution “is not in violation of ¶ 162H of The 2000 Discipline of the United Methodist Church.” In his rationale, the bishop wrote: ¶ 161C affirms “the sanctity of the marriage covenant . . . between a man and a woman.” The 2000 Discipline does not support same sex marriage and the North Georgia Annual Conference may rightfully support the State of Georgia’s efforts to prohibit such relationships. ¶ 162H rightfully advocates for protection of “certain basic human and civil liberties” of all persons regardless of sexual orientation. However, rights resulting from a “same sex marriage” are not recognized by The 2000 Discipline. Although the resolution could have been more precisely worded, the reference to “union between persons of same sex” falls under the initial and primary rubric of “Recognition of Marriage” and should not be interpreted as a restriction on the basic rights, liberties, and contractual relationships of homosexual persons. Any restriction of equal rights and protection under the law based on sexual orientation would be inconsistent with ¶ 162H. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 of the 2000 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The Bishop correctly held in his decision of law that the language in the resolution which expressed “support for laws which define marriage as existing only between one man and one woman” and which supported “passage of the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the State of Georgia” which recognized “as marriage only the union of man and woman” and declared that “[m]arriages between persons of the same sex are prohibited in this state” was not in conflict with the 2000 Discipline. Paragraph 161C of the Discipline states the position of The United Methodist Church: “We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.” In his decision, the Bishop also correctly referred to ¶ 162H of the Discipline, noting that that provision rightfully advocates for protection of “certain basic human and civil liberties” of all persons regardless of sexual orientation. Paragraph 162H of the Discipline provides that:

Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims where they have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law.
As the bishop stated, “rights resulting from a ‘same sex marriage’ are not recognized” by the 2000 Discipline. However, other rights attendant to contractual relationships between members of the same gender are recognized by the 2000 Discipline. The proposed amendment to the Constitution of the State of Georgia does not seek to preclude assertion and protection of rights and claims which arise from contractual relationships between persons of the same gender. The Bishop correctly ruled that the resolution does not violate ¶ 162H of the Discipline, provided that the amendment addresses only rights asserted due to same-sex marriage. The Bishop’s decision of law is affirmed.

Decision

The Bishop’s decision of law that a resolution in support of marriage amendment to the Constitution of the State of Georgia did not violate ¶ 162H of the 2000 Discipline is affirmed.

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