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Complaint Filed Against Ministers at Lesbian Marriage

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The Methodist bishop for Northern California filed a complaint Tuesday against 69 ministers who participated in a lesbian "holy union celebration" in mass defiance of a church ban on the same-sex marriages.

The complaint is the first step toward a possible church trail for the Rev. Don Fado, who presided at the Jan. 15th celebration, and the other ministers. If convicted, they could be removed from the clergy.

Bishop Melvin Talbert, head of the 375-church California-Nevada United Methodists Conference, said he brought the complaint with "sorrow and regret."

Talbert said the church's ban on ceremonies recognizing gay relationships is an "act of injustice." But he said church law required him to act on a complaint brought by two pastors.

"I will uphold law, but I will not be silenced. I will continue speaking out against the law and will continue working to change the position of our church to be more keeping with the teaching and compassion of Jesus," he said.

Fado said Talbert "had no alternative" to filing the complaint. "I wish we didn't have to go through all this, but this the way it is dealt with. The fact that we had so many participate... was to make a statement to the church that it need to reevaluate this policy," he said.

The Conflict over same-sex weddings has been simmering for years within the United Methodist Church, which with 8.5 million members is the nation's second biggest Protestant denomination after the Southern Baptists.

Fedo led the wedding-like celebration for Jeanne Barnett, 68, and Ellie Charlton, 63. The women have long been active in Fado's church, St. Marks United Methodists, and have been a couple for more than 15 years.

More than 1,000 members of the clergy, lay leaders, gays and others attended the ceremony, which was held at the Sacramento Community Center and included folk songs, dancing and poetry.

While Fado presided, the other ministers lined up on risers on the stage to chant the blessing that Fado proclaimed could land them all in trouble with church officials: "O God, our maker, we gladly proclaim to the world that Jeanne and Ellie are loving partners together for life."

"In our church, unfortunately, I'm allowed to come into their home and bless their house, bless their car, bless their tractor, and even bless their dog," Fado said after the ceremony, but I am not allowed to bless them."

Associated Press, The Herald 1213 California St., Everett, WA; March 24, 1999