US pastor guilty of marrying gays
Milwaukee - Methodist pastors who have increasingly defied a church ban on marrying gays were dealt a setback on Wednesday when a colleague was found guilty in a church trial of marrying a lesbian couple in 2009.
A 13-person jury of clergy peers unanimously convicted Reverend Amy DeLong of Osceola. The jury found the 44-year-old not guilty of a second charge of being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual". That vote was 12-1.
After the verdicts were announced on Wednesday afternoon, church officials began hearing a second round of testimony to help jurors recommend a penalty that could range from suspension to defrocking. At least five DeLong supporters were scheduled to testify.
Efforts to reach DeLong by phone were not immediately successful.
"I'm sure it was very difficult for the jury to deliberate on both charges," Reverend Bruce Robbins, a DeLong supporter, said. "I'm not surprised, though. I've been listening to the jury instructions and I'm not sure how the jury could have come to a different conclusion."
A message left with a church spokesperson was not immediately returned.
Robbins, of the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, is one of several Methodist leaders across the country encouraging his colleagues to disobey the church ban on marrying gays. The efforts have gained momentum, as hundreds of pastors from areas including Illinois, Minnesota, New York and New England signed statements in recent weeks asserting their willingness to defy the rule.
While other mainline Protestant denominations have become more accepting of openly gay leaders, the Methodist church has been reluctant to join them. Its "rulebook", called the Book of Discipline, forbids clergy to officiate at same-sex marriages, under penalty of discipline or dismissal from the church.
The chances of reversing the rule are far from certain, however. Rule changes must be approved by delegates at the church's General Conference, held every four years. Because a growing number of delegates come from Africa, the Philippines and other theologically conservative regions, voting patterns reflect strong resistance to change.
Methodist clergy who defy the rule, like DeLong, could be charged with violating denominational law and forced to face a church trial. Penalties could include defrocking or suspension from the ministry.
DeLong said she told her supervisors years ago that she was in a lesbian relationship and felt comforted by the support and caring she received in response. She admitted later marrying the lesbian couple and said she was speaking out because she could no longer let protect the church's policy. Church officials replied that their longstanding rules were clear.