San Francisco Chronicle, 19 Feb. 2004:
Many S.F. Churches Support Gay Weddings
by Don Lattin and Steve Rubenstein
City Hall workers are not the only officiants keeping busy these days with same-sex marriages.
The Rev. Karen Oliveto, pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church in San Francisco, has provided God's blessing to eight couples who were issued civil marriage licenses since the great wedding march to City Hall began last Thursday.
"We are in a whole new world, and the church better catch up,'' Oliveto said.
Most of Oliveto's weddings have been in and around City Hall, but Sunday she presided over the union of Dan Johnson and Bill Hinson -- which she said is the first legal gay marriage to take place inside a Methodist church sanctuary.
"This may make some United Methodists angry, but anyone who knows the location of our ministry knows that I acted faithfully,'' said Oliveto, whose 170-member Noe Valley congregation is about half gay, half straight.
National church law in Oliveto's 8-million-member Protestant denomination specifically forbids holy union ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
Her actions are likely to prompt a formal complaint to Northern California Methodist Bishop Beverly Shamana, which would begin a long, bureaucratic process that could result in Oliveto losing her ministerial credentials.
Shamana, who has dodged questions about gay marriage since her election as bishop nearly four years ago, was on "renewal leave'' and unavailable for comment until March.
But she did release a written statement Wednesday that took no clear position on the controversial issue.
"At this time ... as people of faith we are not of one mind on issues related to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons,'' said Shamana, adding that church laws make "diverse statements about homosexuality in the church.''
Clergy from six religious traditions -- Episcopalian, Jewish, Lutheran, Baptist, Unitarian and Methodist -- stood by Oliveto on Wednesday at a news conference at Bethany church to support the week of same-sex weddings.
"The time is long overdue for gay and lesbian people to have the support and protection of the law for their faithful relationships and their families, '' said the Rev. Alan Jones, the dean of Grace (Episcopal) Cathedral. "Gays and lesbians are our friends and colleagues. They are us. It's time to honor and celebrate all those who seek to strengthen the human family.''
Leaders of St. Francis Lutheran Church, which was expelled from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1990 for hiring two openly lesbian pastors, have invited all couples recently married at City Hall to go for a blessing at their church in the Castro at 11 a.m. Sunday.
"We want queer couples and their friends and families to know that there are Christians who celebrate these marriages and a God who blesses them," said Jane Moyer, congregation vice president.
The Reverends Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, the lesbian couple whose leadership led to the congregation's ejection from the national church, were among the 2,600 couples married at City Hall over Valentine's Day weekend.
Of course, not all San Francisco Protestants are jumping on the gay marriage bandwagon.
The Rev. P.T. Mammen, president of the San Francisco Evangelical Association, said his reading of the Bible clearly prohibits the sexual union of homosexuals and unmarried heterosexuals.
"When we violate God's principles, we reap the consequences,'' said Mammen, a minister with the Church of the Nazarene. "No civil authority is above God's law.''
Last week, the spiritual leader of what is by far the largest church in San Francisco, Roman Catholic Archbishop William Levada, had a similar response to Mayor Gavin Newsom's actions.
"Marriage is a relationship defined by nature, a reality which takes its origin in creation itself,'' Levada said. "Society does not create marriages.''