Presbyterian minister awaits trial for performing gay unions

BY Advocate.com Editors

March 28 2003 12:00 AM ET

An Ohio Presbyterian minister awaiting the denomination's first trial for officiating at the union ceremonies of same-sex couples says he hopes his defiant stand will help bring about change and greater acceptance. The Reverend Stephen Van Kuiken readily acknowledges that policies he and his Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church congregation in Cincinnati have endorsed violate the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He says, however, that the issue is fairness to gays and whether the church will welcome them along with heterosexuals. "These laws are hanging over their head," Van Kuiken, 44, said Tuesday of the church rules. "They're hanging over my head. The effect is to keep these people quiet or to scare them away. It's intimidation."

The highest court of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has ruled that ministers may bless same-sex couples' relationships but cannot marry them. "When you do a wedding you are creating a new spiritual and legal entity," said the Reverend Mark Tammen, director of constitutional services at the Presbyterian Church's headquarters in Louisville, Ky. Presbyterian activists who are pressuring the denomination to enforce its constitution have filed charges in about 20 cases around the country with presbyteries, which are regional clusters of congregations. Some have been filed against ministers who are openly gay. Some cases were investigated and dismissed for lack of evidence; Van
Kuiken's case is the first to go to trial.

Van Kuiken, pastor for 3 1/2 years at Mount Auburn, is scheduled to go on trial April 8 before the Cincinnati Presbytery's court. He also is accused of violating the denomination's laws by ordaining, as lay church elders and deacons, gay people who may be sexually active. If found guilty, he could be reprimanded, temporarily suspended, and ordered to repent or be removed from office. He could appeal the ruling.

Van Kuiken said he worries about the possible outcome for him, his wife, and their two children. "In my bleaker moments I wonder, What did I do?" said Van Kuiken, a minister for 19 years who has been pastor at three other churches. "I'm just trying to do the right thing. Sometimes trying to do the right thing is scary." Van Kuiken said he hopes the denomination eventually welcomes homosexuals in
the same way it overcame bans on female clergy and divorced people holding leadership positions.

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