Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bad Committee Work on the Authoritative Interpretation

This week I am blogging from the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly

One of the most contentious issues before the General Assembly is over whether Presbyterian ministers can perform same-sex marriages.  The committee charged with answering the various overtures on this matter is faced with clear language in the church's constitution which says marriage is a union of 'a man and a woman'.

One of the proposals approved by the committee is to change the constitution to define marriage as between 'two persons'.  This makes sense as a way to solve the problem.

My quarrel is with the other approach, which is to issue an "Authoritative Interpretation" of what the constitution means.  Changing the constitution requires the joint action of the General Assembly and a majority of presbyteries. An Authoritative Interpretation, on the other hand, can be issued by the GA itself, and holds until undone by another GA.

The committee received overtures to issue an Authoritative Interpretation declaring that ministers can, indeed, perform same-sex marriages.

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution, which advises every committee on each overture that comes before it, gave this clear advice:

Section W-4.9001 and related citations (W-4.9002a, W-4.9004, W-4.9006) limit marriage to couples who are “a woman and a man.” Because these statements are clear and unambiguous, they can not be interpreted in a manner that is inconsistent with their plain and ordinary meaning.
In other words, you can't issue an Authoritative Interpretation that when the constitution limits marriage to 'a man and a woman', that does not mean that marriage is limited to a man and a woman.

In what I hope is my one and only speech in the plenary, I asked the committee how they answered this clear word from the ACC.  

The moderator of the committee answered that they didn't.

A member of the committee told me that someone in the committee debate said that the constitution was just describing traditional marriage, not defining marriage in, you know, a constitutional way.

Regardless of what you think about the substance of the issue of same-sex marriage, declaring that 'black is white' is just bad committee work.


gruntled said...

And the motion passed, 61% to 39%.


Tyler Ward said...

They voted to issue the AI contrary to the advice of the ACC?

If that's what you mean, this nonsensical action demonstrates why conservatives gave up--there's nothing decent and orderly about voting to authoritatively
interpret text to mean something it clearly doesn't mean.

Reformed Catholic said...

As the commissioner who tried to get a ruling under Roberts Rules based on the ACC's comment that the AI was basically unconstitutional, I'm not sure if we had more conservatives at the table, that anything would have changed.

IMHO: the ACC was not going to say anything to bounce the AI from the docket.

gruntled said...

I think the ACC can only advise; they don't have the authority to bounce anything from the docket, not matter how nonsensical.