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Lebanon County pastor found guilty of violating church law by performing same-sex marriage

Reported by: Chris Papst 

SPRING CITY -- A Lebanon County pastor has been found guilty by a church jury of violating church law and performing a same-sex marriage ceremony for his son.

Rev. Frank Schaefer has been suspended from all ministerial duties for 30 days and will face permanent defrockment if he does not renounce his stance on same-sex marriage.

In a press conference after the verdict was handed down, Schaefer said, "This was an opporutnity for the church to engage in new discussions about this topic. This is a very divisive topid. I'm hoping we can get one little step further in the discussion and I hope one day we can get rid of these exclusionary policies all together."

He added that, "there is quite an interest in this canse and in other cases coming up. All will be small steps in bringing a change in the future."

"I appreciate all the support that I got tonight," Schaefer said. 

The controversy stems from Schaefer's 2007 decision to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony in Massachusetts for his son.

During closing arguments tonight, the defense told the jury the world is watching. He said what they decide will determine the future of the United Methodist Church.

The opposing sides have dug in and this church is divided.

Its a tough one. It is. But it was wrong. And honestly, to not defrock him sends a message that would be hurtful in the long run, Christina Watson, who has left the church over Schaefer's actions, said. 

Were proud to stand with Pastor Frank because of what he did.  And regardless of the outcome today, in some way, we are kind of grateful, because this will change many lives for the LGBT community, especially within the Methodist Church, Clydette Overturf, Schaefer's assistant said. 

My daughter was hearing that her minister knowingly broke his vow with the church and she was not trusting of his teachings, Watson said. 

Today, 12 people testified, six for the church and six for the pastor, including Schaefer himself. Schaefer told the jury he will no longer be a silent supporter. He said he will now be an activist. He also refused to repent for violating church law.

Bill Gatewood is a supporter and member of the church who recently married his gay partner. "We want to be recognized. They take our money but we cant be recognized? I tell you, this will split the church if he is defrocked.

Regardless of the jury's decision, the end of Schaefer's trial was not the end of the conversation. Many other United Methodist pastors in this region and around the country have been charged for marrying gay couples.
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