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Delegates make no changes to church’s civil rights stance

By Linda Bloom*
May 4, 2004 | PITTSBURGH (UMNS)

Attempts to expand language related to the civil rights of gays and lesbians were defeated May 4 by delegates of the United Methodist General Conference.

Both pieces of legislation suggested new language for Paragraph 162H, “Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation,” in the denomination’s Social Principles, part of The Book of Discipline.

The current language in the paragraph supports “certain basic human rights and civil liberties” for homosexuals and supports efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians.

One petition, “Affirming Civil Liberties for All Persons,” would have added a new sentence to the paragraph that read: “We support the right of same-gender couples to receive the same protections and benefits provided by state and national governments that come through civil marriages between men and women.”

Tom Junk, a lay delegate from Oklahoma, told delegates that the Church and Society Committee was recommending the addition of the sentence not be approved because the denomination does not support same-sex marriages or civil unions.

Vicki Woods, a clergy delegate from New England, argued that the new language was appropriate because the Social Principles supports civil rights for all persons.

However, delegates voted to support the committee’s recommendation not to add the sentence by about a 2-1 margin.

Another petition, “Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation,” changed the words “homosexual” and “gays and lesbians” to “all persons whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity.” It also added the sentence, “In addition, we oppose heterosexism in all its forms” to Paragraph 162H.

The committee opposed the legislation. “Our Discipline currently confirms our church’s position, which is equal rights for all persons,” Junk said.

Tom Wilson, a first-time lay delegate from the Pacific Northwest, called for the new language to be accepted and voiced his concern about the treatment of gays and lesbians by the denomination.

“How much longer are we going to slam our church doors on them because of who they love?” asked the married father of three. “We need these people to share their stories in our homes, our churches and, yes, our pulpits.”

A suggested amendment from the floor to remove the sentence about heterosexism failed. The committee’s recommendation to retain the paragraph’s current language was upheld by another 2-1 margin.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer.

News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7. After May 10: (615) 742-5470.

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