Less than a month after same-sex couples in California received the go-ahead to wed, a retired Methodist minister from Sacramento has come forward with a group of colleagues willing to perform same-sex marriages.
In an announcement Wednesday on the steps of St. Mark's Methodist Church in Sacramento, the retired Rev. Don Fado announced that he and 84 other retired clergy members of the United Methodist Church will violate established doctrine and marry any same-sex couple that requests their blessing.
"We will refuse to treat people as inferior, second-class citizens of God," Fado said.
Same-sex marriage resumed in California on June 28, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a lower court decision that found Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. In the weeks since, hundreds of same-sex couples across the state have wed.
If church leaders decide to sanction the retired ministers for their behavior, they could be defrocked and lose their health insurance benefits. However, that possibility is unlikely, Fado said.
Wednesday's announcement marks the second time in six years that Fado has come forward with a contingent of ministers who publicly acknowledged their willingness to marry couples regardless of their sexual orientation.
In 2008, after a decision by the Supreme Court of California legalized same-sex marriage, Fado married two same-sex couples. He was not sanctioned by the church.
In 1999, Fado performed a much-contested "holy union" between two women at the Sacramento Convention Center to recognize their relationship in the eyes of the St. Mark's congregation.
The ceremony, which was attended by more than 500 religious and civil rights activists, drew national media attention and was picketed by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based anti-gay group.
Fado's delegation of ministers are speaking out while many ministers in the United Methodist Church in California are performing same-sex marriages, Fado said.
Of the seven retired ministers in attendance at Wednesday's announcement, several approached the lectern and explained their justification for agreeing to support same-sex marriage in defiance of church doctrine.
The Rev. Larry George, a former minister for a congregation in Sacramento, discussed how his views on same-sex marriage evolved over the course of his lifetime.
George said he encountered many stereotypes of homosexuals while living in the Midwest, caricatures that were dispelled after he lived and worked with them on a daily basis.
"It wasn't until I met people who proved their stereotypes to be false that those walls came crumbling down," George said.
People who believe that same-sex marriage corrodes the traditional foundation of heterosexual unions have not made a compelling argument for their beliefs, George said.
"I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me how my marriage can be improved by condemning someone else's," he said.
The statements of the retired reverends stand in contrast to a statement released by the local leadership of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Warner H. Brown, in the wake of the Supreme Court's action. In his statement dated June 26, Brown affirmed his commitment to upholding church doctrine, which prevents Methodist ministers from performing same-sex marriages.
It also advises members of the congregation who want to marry to seek pastors from different denominations who are authorized to perform the ceremony.
The division experienced within the United Methodist Church is one that's shared by many other denominations throughout the state of California, said Elizabeth Sholes, director of special projects for the California Council of Churches.
The Supreme Court's deliberations on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 focused conversations about same-sex marriage among priests, the laity and legislators, but didn't do much to sway beliefs one way or the other, Sholes said. "It did not change hearts and minds," she said. "It confirmed them."
As same-sex marriages continue, parishioners and pastors from all faiths will struggle to reconcile the concept of traditional marriage with the legal reality, Sholes said.
"I think people are concerned that what they know of traditional marriage is something that they have to wrestle with," she said.
Call The Bee's Benjamin Mullin, (916) 321-1034.