By JAY REEVES
A retired United Methodist bishop from Tennessee said Monday that he will perform a wedding service for two men in Alabama despite opposition from the presiding bishop, who says the ceremony will violate church law.
Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, who has been active in efforts to eliminate barriers to gay marriage from United Methodist doctrine, said it will be an honor to officiate at the ceremony later this month in metro Birmingham for Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince.
Talbert said he was contacted by the longtime partners after they learned they could not be married in the area church where they are active members.
While Alabama does not recognize same-sex marriage, the men were married legally in Washington, D.C., last month, Openshaw said. He and Prince want to have a church ceremony at home in Alabama for their family and friends.
“Just like anyone else who is getting married,” said Openshaw, 59.
Retired since 2000, Talbert is still active in the United Methodist Church and said he would be subject to the same disciplinary action as active ministers or bishops should someone file complaint over his involvement in a gay wedding.
“I fully expect it to happen,” said Talbert, of Nashville, Tenn. “I’m still a bishop and I’m no less accountable than those who are active.”
The controversy was first reported in a column published Sunday on AL.com.
The United Methodist Church is the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination with almost 8 million members, and it has been debating its stance on homosexuality for years.
Methodists, during their last national meeting in 2012, upheld the denomination’s 40-year-old policy that same-sex relationships conflict with Christian teaching. Advocates for gay and lesbian Methodists protested the vote, and Talbert publicly offered to perform weddings for same-sex couples.
Talbert said the ceremony for Openshaw and Prince, scheduled for Oct. 26, will be his first time to officiate at a gay wedding.
The ceremony will be performed in a church aligned with a different Christian denomination since Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, who oversees United Methodist churches in North Alabama, barred it from occurring at the United Methodist church the men attend in suburban Birmingham.
Wallace-Padgett said she has asked Talbert to reconsider performing the service since official United Methodist doctrine says homosexual practices are “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
“Our ministers are not permitted to conduct ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions or perform same sex wedding ceremonies,” Wallace-Padgett said in a statement released on a church website.
While the church officially views homosexuality as sinful, Talbert said he considers it an act of “biblical obedience” as a pastor to offer all ministries of the church to all people, including homosexuals who wish to marry.
Wallace-Padgett said she is concerned that controversy over same-sex marriage would overshadow the church’s other ministries in the region.
“For a bishop or any ordained or licensed minister to disregard a law of the church creates a breach of the covenant they made at their consecration, ordination or licensing,” she said in the statement.
United Methodist churches have a total membership of about 137,000 people in north Alabama.