Unions Are Not Marriages


I head across country in a few days to be present at the church trial of my friend and colleague, Honorably Retired Rev. Janie Spahr, who is being tried for presiding at the weddings of same-gender couples in California in 2008. As I think back on Janie’s long ministry, I recall the recent news that the Episcopal Church is beginning the process to create liturgies specifically for same-gender unions, which might eventually become services authorized by the bishops for use in Episcopal parishes. Similarly, the PCUSA has encouraged blessing of two men or two women in union ceremonies since 1991.

So why didn’t Janie Spahr just bless the union of these couples who wanted to be married in 2008?

Janie Spahr has been a respected pastor throughout the long journey among LGBT people of seeking to have our lifelong commitments blessed among our faith communities and friends. And in that role, she has led many union services. Her practice is to follow the lead of each couple as they make the very personal decision to join their lives together. She customarily meets with each couple for a year to talk through all manner of things including what type of ceremony they want. Some want a union; some, a marriage. Different couples want different things, and the variety of possibilities available is a good thing.

But in the end, a union — civil or church — is not a marriage.

The Majority Report of the Civil Union and Marriage Special Committee that is being sent out to the whole PCUSA for study concludes, “We find the compromise suggestion of civil unions/domestic partnerships offers no true solution to the struggle around same-gender partnerships. Civil unions/domestic partnerships provide neither the state-sanctioned benefits nor the societal acceptance that marriage (redefined or not) offers.” I agree.

For many couples, nothing can replace the knowledge that their relationship is a marriage that has been rightly marked by a wedding. As, my friend, Brenda — now married to Nancy for five years — says, “No one goes out to tell the world, ‘I’m being unioned next Saturday.’ No one would understand such a thing. We all understand, ‘I’m getting married!’”

When I was preparing to be tried in church court as Janie will be next week, I met a couple, two men retired now, who had been married in 1969 by the Presbyterian chaplain at Colorado University. In the summer of the Stonewall Uprising, union never occurred to them. Their love and commitment was, and continues to be, what we all recognize as marriage.

Janie Spahr knows this and is leading us all to that Promised Land. I encourage you to join in her journey next week in these amazing cyberspace ways:


Reverend Janet

6 Responses
  • janie spahr on August 21, 2010

    Dear Janet,
    I am thrilled you are coming here to California andwill be with us for the trial. I am grateful you will be in the service on Sunday night the 22nd to bless us as we head off into the week.. Thank you dear friend. What a blessing you are!!
    love, Janie

  • Janet Edwards on August 21, 2010

    Dear Janie Spahr,

    Back at you with gratitude for the blessing you are to the church and the world!

    You have been such a shining beacon of God’s love for so long, Janie, and folks in the PCUSA keep calling you back to shine again.

    I am so eager to learn from the witness you have prepared for this trial, to show the pastoral foundations for your presiding at these weddings and to introduce the faith, love and service of these inspiring couples.

    Peace and love be with you, Janet

  • Mike Fazzini on August 23, 2010

    Dear Janet, Please keep us updated with the progrees of Janie’s trial. She has a whole bunch of fans here in the ‘Burgh. I know I will be thin king of her over the next few days. Peace, Mike

  • Janet Edwards on August 23, 2010

    Dear Mike,

    Greetings from Napa on the eve of the presbytery disciplinary trial of Rev. Janie Spahr. I will pass on to Janie your well wishing and I know your support from her childhood home will sustain her through these coming days.

    The heart of Janie’s defense is the deep love and commitment of the eleven couples at whose weddings she presided in 2008. They will all testify to the love and pastoral care they know in Janie Spahr.

    I will be tweeting updates as best I can. And you can use the links I mention above for Janie’s own word on what will be happening these next three days. I hope that will give you the connections you need to direct your prayers.

    Thanks for writing, Mike. Peace be with you, Janet

  • Ann Montague on August 24, 2010

    I think the idea of a church “trial” is a little creepy. But at least it isn’t in secret and I assume it is not in a dungeon..But seriously it is great having the tweets and info about the process. I hope they emphasize that the marriages were legal by civil law and generally Presbyterian ministers don’t question the various State laws …
    Many prayers,

  • Janet Edwards on August 25, 2010

    Dear Ann,

    I suppose it is the fact that John Calvin was first a lawyer that makes my Presbyterian soul settle in with the notion of trials in the church.

    This trial is in the fellowship hall of the Church of the Covenant in Napa –the kind of room most Presbyterians have had many a coffee hour and church supper.

    That these were legal marriages in the state of California has been made very clear and that this presented a new pastoral situation for Janie and the other ministers here is also very clear. May the six commissioners sitting at the front of the room and who will make the judicial decision have understood these things.

    Thanks for following the trial and holding these proceedings in your prayers. Peace, Janet

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