Pastor: Congregation Fired Me for Performing Gay Marriage

A congregation has fired its pastor for conducting the wedding of two men at a central Pennsylvania mayor's home, the pastor said.

The Rev. Ken Kline Smeltzer, 62, of Boalsburg, told the Centre Daily Times he married two Pike County men on Aug. 19 at the home of State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham.

Goreham had pledged to marry any same-sex couples who came to her with licenses issued by Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes.

The county clerk issued 174 same-sex licenses since July before he was court ordered to stop earlier this month by a Commonwealth Court judge who said Hanes didn't have the power to decide whether Pennsylvania's Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional. The law defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Hanes plans a state Supreme Court appeal.

Goreham decided against presiding at marriages herself, after borough officials told her that would violate her oath of office to uphold the state constitution and, instead, invited Smeltzer to preside.

“I knew he was an ordained minister. I don't know if we'd ever spoken about it. He loves to perform weddings and he thought about it and said ‘yes,’” Goreham said.

Smeltzer did not immediately return a phone message left by The Associated Press on Tuesday. Smeltzer refused to tell the newspaper which congregation fired him, because he acknowledged his views differ from that church's.

However, a newspaper ad located online from The (Lewistown) Sentinel's May 13 edition showed Burnham Church of the Brethren listed Smeltzer as its pastor.

Repeated calls to the congregation's office went unanswered. However, Cheryl Brumbaugh-Coyford, spokeswoman for the denomination based in Elgin, Ill., confirmed Smeltzer “has been a pastor in the Church of the Brethren.”

Brethren churches hire and fire their own pastors, they're not appointed or assigned by the denomination, so “at this point it's a personnel matter for that congregation,” she said.

The denomination issued a statement at its annual conference in 1983 -- which has been reaffirmed since -- that deals with same-sex marriage and homosexuality, among other issues, Brumbaugh-Coyford told the AP.

“The Church of the Brethren upholds the biblical declaration that heterosexuality is the intention of God for creation,” according to the statement.

The church lists “celibacy” or “conversion to a heterosexual  orientation” as two acceptable lifestyle options, and says, “Covenantal relationships between homosexual persons is an additional lifestyle option but, in the church's search for a Christian understanding of human sexuality, this alternative is not acceptable.”

Despite that, Brumbaugh-Coyford acknowledges the denomination is split into roughly thirds between those who reject same-sex marriage, those who don't, and those somewhere in the middle.

Smeltzer is one of six members listed on the board of the Progressive Brethren Council, which condones same-sex marriage.

Goreham has contacted another pastor, whose church approves of same-sex marriage, should she host others and said she understood why Smeltzer was fired.

“He's acting on his belief and the church is acting on theirs,” she said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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