MARY ALICE WILLIAMS: Homosexuality is certainly among the most contentious issues facing Christian denominations, and it made headlines again this week. The issue continues to be controversial for the worldwide Anglican Communion and its U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church. This week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Communion, said he won't recognize two American bishops consecrated in a renegade ceremony last month. Some conservative Asian and African bishops conducted that ceremony. They said they wanted to challenge the liberal positions on homosexuality taken by some leaders of the U.S. church. According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the ceremony violated church protocol because it happened without the knowledge or permission of U.S. church officials.
And in a related development, an Episcopal Church commission has declined to take a position on gay marriage, leaving the issue of same-sex unions to the individual diocese. The issue will resurface at the church's national convention in July.
Meanwhile, in Seattle last week, the diocese of Olympia has installed the first openly gay priest to be elected dean of an Episcopal cathedral in the United States. Reverend Robert Vincent Taylor, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, was recommended for the position by his hometown friend, Nobel laureate and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The many Methodist ministers facing trial for defying the church's ban on gay marriages are off the hook. A year ago, they had blessed a holy union ceremony in which two women exchanged marriage vows. For that, they could have been defrocked. But church investigators decided their infractions were not serious enough to warrant a trial.
But the controversy isn't going away. The issue of same-sex unions will be on the table at the United Methodists' quadrennial convention in May. Conservatives are urging an end to what they call blatant disobedience among clergy. Meanwhile, the holy unions continue. Judy Valente reports from Chicago.
JUDY VALENTE: It's an intimate wedding on Chicago's North Side, with flowers, the traditional bridal march, and the exchange of rings. But something is missing: the bride. These two men, who didn't want their faces shown, are being joined in what is called a holy union. The debate over gay unions and gay clergy is tearing apart several mainline Protestant denominations, with both sides apparently determined to draw a theological line in the sand.
Reverend WILLIAM WILLIMON (Dean, Duke University Chapel): The church, through Scripture and through its tradition, has affirmed marriage as a vocation for some Christians, has wanted to uphold that, that sense of a man and a woman and a covenanted, exclusive, lifelong relationship.
Ms. DONNA TRINKO (United Methodist): God ordained man and woman to be together and to have children.
Mr. JIM CHARLTON (United Methodist): God has ordained, as early as Genesis, what a marriage is to look like. It's a man and it's a woman, and it's for life.
Ms. ALISON WHITE (Accountant): We own a house. We have two dogs. Mary's a lawyer. I'm an accountant. We're expecting a child.
VALENTE: Alison White and Mary Roberts have been partners for nine years, and now Alison is pregnant through artificial insemination. Both are leaders at their Episcopal church. They hold a very different view of gay unions.
Ms. MARY ROBERTS (Attorney): I just don't see what's wrong with two people loving each other and, you know, working together to create a life together. I just don't understand where someone who doesn't know who I am or who Alison is or what our relationship's about can judge us.
VALENTE: It's difficult enough for churches to talk about sex, much less homosexuality. And questioning the authority of the Bible is something they don't even want to think about. But those are two things churches may have to do to resolve the divisive issues surrounding gay clergy and gay marriage.
Reverend BLISS BROWNE (Episcopal Priest): We are generally uncomfortable with having bodies. We don't quite know what to do about the fact that we're sexual beings. Whenever something makes us uncomfortable, when it threatens us -- and sexuality is an issue that generally threatens us -- then we tend to be more judgmental.
VALENTE: Reverend Browne says that when it comes to gay relationships, many pastors are caught between the spirituality of the ideal, church doctrine, and the spirituality of the real, the way people actually live their lives.
Rev. BROWNE: And in private, pastors recognize that these relationships tend in general to be loving relationships, productive in terms of human life, you know, life-giving to the people involved. And they're therefore not arguing against them in practice. Then it's going to set up a dissonance in the church because we're saying one thing and we're telling people privately something else.
Unidentified Pastor: Our Scripture reading is from the book of John, Chapter 8, verse 1 through 11.
VALENTE: Much of the struggle is being waged over the interpretation of scriptural passages which describe homosexual behavior as "shameful," "unnatural," or "'an abomination."
Rev. WILLIMON: One party says, "By God, this is a matter of biblical interpretation. If we give here, the whole Bible is destroyed." On the other hand, you've got those saying, "It's a human rights issue. If you don't permit gay unions, you're supporting violence against gay and lesbian people."