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Decision No. 1075

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October 26 2007
In Re: Request for a Declaratory Decision by the Minnesota Annual Conference on the Meaning, Application and Effect of ¶¶ 161C, 161D, 161G, 304.3, 341.6, 612.9 and 806.19 of the 2004 Book of Discipline with respect to the Provision of Domestic Partner Health Coverage for Lay Employees.

Digest of Case

The Domestic Partner Benefits Plan adopted by the Minnesota Annual Conference does not violate ¶¶ 161C, 161D, 161G, 304.3, 341.6, 612.19, or 806.9 of the 2004 Book of Discipline. No United Methodist funds are being used to supply domestic partner benefits under the Conference Health Benefits Plan.

Statement of Facts

During the 2007 session of the Minnesota Annual Conference, action item No. 522, Domestic Partner Benefits, was adopted. The legislation provided for offering domestic partner health coverage to all lay employees eligible to participate in the conference plan and who declare they have a domestic partner. The legislation further provided for the cost of the health coverage to be borne by the employee. The Annual Conference voted to request the Judicial Council to render a declaratory decision on the following question:

Does Action Item no. 522, Domestic Partner Benefits, violate in its application any of the following Disciplinary provisions: paragraphs 161C, 161D, 161G, 304.3, 341.6, 612.19 or 806.9?
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶2610 of the 2004 Book of Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
Paragraphs 161C, 161D, and 161G are part of the Social Principles. “They are a call to faithfulness and are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit; however, they are not church law.” Preface to the Social Principles, 2004 Book of Discipline. p. 95. Paragraph 304.3 of the 2004 Discipline provides:
While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.
This disciplinary provision sets out a qualification for ordination in The United Methodist Church. The Domestic Partner Benefits Plan for lay employees does not violate the provision. Paragraph 341.6 of the 2004 Discipline says, “[c]eremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” The paragraph proscribes certain conduct by the clergy of The United Methodist Church. The Domestic Partners Benefits Plan for lay employees does not come within this provision and the provision is not applicable. Paragraph 612.19 of the 2004 Discipline grants to the annual conference council on finance and administration the authority and responsibility:
To ensure that no annual conference board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures. This restriction shall not limit the Church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic, nor shall it preclude funding for dialogs or educational events where the Church’s official position is fairly and equally represented.
Paragraph 806.9 of the 2004 Discipline vests in the General Council of Finance and Administration the following responsibility:
It shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures. This restriction shall not limit the Church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic.
Decision 1030 states that “[t]he annual conference council on finance and administration is charged, under ¶ 612.19 of the 2004 Discipline, with the responsibility of determining whether United Methodist funds are being used to supply domestic partner benefits under a conference health benefits plan, and, if so, whether such expenditure promotes the acceptance of homosexuality.” The Minnesota Annual Conference Council on Finance and Administration was asked by the Conference Board of Pensions and Health Benefits to evaluate the Plan. The Conference Council on Finance and Administration determined that no annual conference funds would be used to supply domestic partner benefits because the cost of the coverage would be paid by the lay employee. Having made the determination that no United Methodist funds would be used to provide domestic partner benefits, the Conference Council’s inquiry did not have to go any further. They had discharged their responsibility under the provision. The Conference’s Domestic Partners Benefit Plan does not violate ¶ 612.19.
Decision
The Domestic Partner Benefits Plan adopted by the Minnesota Annual Conference does not violate ¶¶ 161C, 161D, 161G, 304.3, 341.6, 612.19, or 806.9 of the 2004 Book of Discipline. No United Methodist funds are being used to supply domestic partner benefits for lay employees under the Conference Health Benefits Plan. October 27, 2007 James W. Holsinger, Jr., Jon R. Gray and Shamwange P. Kyungu were absent. C. Rex Bevins, the first clergy alternate, and Solomon Christian, the first lay alternate, participated in this decision.

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