PHILADELPHIA — About 50 ministers gave their symbolic support to a colleague facing sanctions from the United Methodist Church by participating in a same-sex wedding.
The wedding Saturday in Philadelphia was held about a week before the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, about 90 miles to the west, will face a church trial for officiating over his son’s marriage to another man.
The clergy filled the front of the Arch Street United Methodist Church, blessing the marriage in defiance of church law, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The closest rested their hands on the couple, Bill Gatewood and Rick Taylor. The others placed their palms on other clergy.
“Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder,” they said in unison.
A spokesman for the church’s eastern Pennsylvania conference would not comment about whether any of the participants may face discipline. Most of the 50 are Methodist ministers.
Taylor, 55, and Gatewood, 70, told the newspaper that all they ever wanted was a traditional wedding — with a blessing in front of the altar, an exchange of vows and a reception in the basement.
The event was largely symbolic, as same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Pennsylvania.
The couple, who met in a Philadelphia gay bar, have been together for 25 years. They said the church has helped them through some difficult times.
The Arch Street congregation, which is committed to the inclusion of people of all sexual orientations, had ministers who consoled them, added the names of their sick friends to the church’s prayer lists and performed funerals when their friends died.
“That’s why we want to get married in our church. We have many, many people who say, Why don’t you just go to New York or Delaware?” Taylor said. “And it’s because we live in Pennsylvania and our church home is here and it means the world to us.”
Schaefer, 51, could be suspended, reprimanded or lose his credentials because he performed a wedding ceremony for his son in 2007 in Massachusetts. He had informed his superiors and did not face any consequences until April, when a congregant filed a complaint.
The United Methodist Church formally accepts gay and lesbian members but teaches that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching.
Schaefer’s trial will begin Nov. 18 at a Methodist retreat in Spring City, about 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia. He could avoid trial by agreeing not to perform another same-sex marriage, but he has decided not to do that. Three of his four children are gay.