Currently, the PC(USA) allows Presbyterian ministers to bless same-gender unions, in services that do not use the same liturgy as marriage services and are not presented as being weddings. The denomination’s constitution defines Christian marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Tara Spuhler McCabe will continue to stand as a candidate for vice moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), despite questions being raised about whether she performed a same-gender wedding in April.
McCabe is a minister in the District of Columbia, where same-gender marriage is legal.
Asked in an interview whether she had performed a same-gender marriage – something the PC(USA) currently does not allow its ministers to do – McCabe declined to give a yes-or-no answer.
She acknowledged that on April 28, she signed the marriage license for two women who were married in the District of Columbia, Christy Hallinan and Morgan Davidson, and that she stood with them at their service.
“I am the officiant that has signed their marriage license,” McCabe said. “The license is out there and my name is on it.”
The issue came to public attention after reporters were provided copies of both the marriage license that McCabe signed and the couple’s application for a marriage license. The documents were provided to the Outlook by a source who asked not to be named, and McCabe said she had received an inquiry from the Layman as well.
McCabe is standing as a candidate for vice moderator of the assembly with moderator candidate Neal Presa, a teaching elder from New Jersey. Both McCabe and Presa said in interviews that she will continue as a candidate, and that their differing views on whether PC(USA) ministers should be allowed to perform same-gender marriages can serve as an example of how Presbyterians who disagree can be in conversation together on difficult theological issues.
On June 18, Presa released a “Statement on Unity & Difference” on his website regarding what has happened. [Editor’s note: the original URL (link) referenced is no longer valid, so the link has been removed.]
McCabe said one of the women who were married April 28 is the cousin of a neighbor. She said she entered into a pastoral care relationship with the couple after learning they were not involved in a congregation but were interested in meeting with a minister to explore spiritual questions.
“I began a pastoral care relationship with these two women,” said McCabe, who has served as associate pastor for congregational life at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington.
McCabe is leaving that congregation June 24 in a transition she said she announced last summer. She said that the wedding between Hallinan and Davidson did not take place at the New York Avenue Church and that neither Presa nor the congregation’s pastor, Roger Gench, knew of it until recently.
Asked if she performed a same-gender wedding, McCabe said, “I began a pastoral care relationship with these two women. Over the year and out of the conviction of my faith, I proceeded to realize with the Lord of my conscience that I needed to move forward.”
McCabe said she stood with the two women as they exchanged vows.
“That was their personal service,” she said. “I guided them through a covenant service,” using words the two women had written, rather than the Book of Common Worship service that she typically uses when marrying a man and a woman in a church. McCabe said she did not pronounce the couple to be married.
Asked again if she had performed a same-gender marriage, McCabe said “they very specifically sought for a pastor to guide them through a discernment period, and we moved forward. Out of the conviction of my faith, I did move forward, standing with them as they themselves exchanged their vows and as I signed their marriage license . . . I am the officiant that has signed their marriage license.”
She also said she did not become involved with the ceremony as an act of public advocacy, but of “pastoral presence.” Asked if she thought she was taking a risk, McCabe said, “I did not.”
The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, the highest court in the PC(USA) system, ruled in 2008 in a case involving same-gender weddings performed by a California minister, Jane Adams Spahr, that because the PC(USA) constitution defines Christian marriage as being between a man and a woman, “a same-sex ceremony can never be a marriage.”
The court instructed Spahr not to perform same-sex ceremonies designated as marriages, and said PC(USA) ministers should not “state, imply or represent that the same-gender ceremony is an ecclesiastical marriage ceremony as defined by PC(USA) polity, whether or not the civil jurisdiction allows same-gender civil marriages.”
The court’s ruling also stated that “the critical question is not whether the definitional question creates proscribed conduct, it is whether it is permissible to represent that one is doing what one cannot constitutionally do.”