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Methodist bishop cited for gay wedding in Alabama

By: JAY REEVES, Associated Press
March 15, 2014 Updated: March 15, 2014 at 8:40 am

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A retired United Methodist bishop who performed a wedding ceremony for two Alabama men after they were refused permission to marry in the church now faces formal complaints over the ceremony.

A church statement said complaints had been filed against Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, who conducted the wedding ceremony for two men in Birmingham last October. Talbert is accused of violating his "sacred trust" as a bishop by performing the ceremony, said a statement from the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, where the complaints are being handled.

Talbert, of Nashville, Tenn., declined comment on the complaints, which were requested by the denomination's Council of Bishops.

Joe Openshaw, one of the men who was wed, said Friday that he hopes the complaints are dismissed.

"I am truly saddened that a complaint has been filed over what was one of the most love filled and happiest days of my life," said Openshaw, who is married to Bobby Prince.

Church officials would not say who filed the complaints, citing the confidentiality of the process.

The church announced the complaints against Talbert a week after similar charges were dropped against a retired Methodist minister who presided at his son's same-sex wedding in New York. In December, a minister from Pennsylvania was defrocked after presiding at his son's same-sex wedding.

Openshaw and Prince are members of a United Methodist church in suburban Birmingham and wanted a church ceremony after being wed legally in Washington, D.C. They had to leave the state to legally marry because Alabama doesn't recognize same-sex marriages.

The men weren't allowed to marry in their church because the United Methodist denomination doesn't allow its ministers to hold same-sex weddings.

Talbert — who is aligned with a group that supports allowing gay marriage within the church — married the men at another church in Birmingham. He did so after Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, who oversees United Methodist operations in North Alabama, asked him not do so.

Wallace-Padgett cannot comment on the complaints against Talbert because the process is confidential, a spokeswoman said.

Church officials hope the complaints can be resolved by mutual agreement, said the Rev. Steve Goodier, a spokesman for the church's Denver-based Rocky Mountain Conference. The complaints are being handled there because Talbert was a member of that church organization before his retirement in 2000.

A supervisory team of two bishops, a minister and a lay person will handle the complaints through a process started by Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of Denver. Goodier declined comment on the possible range of outcomes of the complaints.

United Methodists have debated for four decades about homosexuality, which church teachings call incompatible with Christian teachings. Talbert is a longtime supporter of removing the church's prohibition on same-sex relationships.

The denomination has more than 12 million members worldwide.

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