3 charges dropped against minister in gay wedding

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The Rev. Janet Edwards will be tried in a church court for conducting a marriage ceremony for a lesbian couple in 2005, although three of five charges against her were dismissed yesterday.

The Rev. Edwards, a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) who serves at the interdenominational Community of Reconciliation in Oakland, has never denied conducting the ceremony. Denominational policy permits clergy to bless gay couples but says the ritual should not resemble a marriage ceremony. The Rev. Edwards believes that the part about not resembling a marriage ceremony is advisory, not binding.

The trial, held at The Priory on the North Side, will resume Oct. 2.

The dropped charges alleged errors in the liturgy, which the Rev. Edwards had modified to accommodate one of the women, who is Buddhist. They accused the Rev. Edwards of omitting Bible readings and references to the Trinity and Christian faith.

The nine-member court unanimously accepted the argument of her attorney, Steve Paschall, that "it is impossible for Dr. Edwards to have simultaneously performed a service that is prohibited, and to have performed it improperly."

"I'm pleased we removed the charges. It makes the issue of the trial more focused on marriage as the primary concern," Mr. Paschall said later.

The Rev. Jim Yearsley, who first brought accusations against the Rev. Edwards but now lives in Florida, was glad the trial would go forward.

"I'm hopeful this will be laid to rest and she won't do this again," said Mr. Yearsley, who did not attend the hearing.

If the Rev. Edwards is found guilty, church discipline could range from a mild rebuke to revoking her clergy credentials.

More than 30 observers attended. Most, if not all, were supporters of the Rev. Edwards. During a recess they gathered in a nearby home, where they sang and prayed for her. Among them were Nancy McConn and Brenda Cole of Triadelphia, W.Va., the couple she was on trial for marrying.

The trial "is very hurtful, not just for us but for all gay and lesbian couples. But what the church is doing does not in any way diminish the sacredness of our marriage," Ms. Cole said.

"They do not have that kind of power," said Ms. McConn, who is Presbyterian.

Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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