A retired United Methodist bishop ignored church authorities by officiating a gay wedding in Birmingham, Ala., Saturday Oct. 26.
According to AL.com, Bishop Melvin Talbert, of Nashville, Tenn., was urged by the executive committee of the United Methodist Council of Bishops to refrain from overseeing the union of Joe Openshaw, 59, and Bobby Prince, 54.
Because the United Methodist Church does not honor same-sex marriages, the ceremony was held at Covenant Community Church in Center Point, a church affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
Openshaw and Prince were married Sept. 3 in Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal. Even though Alabama does not recognize gay marriage, Joe and Bobby wanted a church ceremony their family and friends could attend. When they were denied by the United Methodist Church in Hoover, Ala., they sought another venue--and Bishop Talbert.
Joe and Bobby are currently members of Discovery Church, one that welcomes same-sex couples. Their desire to have their union recognized by the Methodist church stemmed from Joe's upbringing in the faith.
"I grew up in the United Methodist Church," Openshaw said. "I did leave the church for awhile after coming out. Discovery was founded 20 years ago to be a church for the un-churched, for people who felt they were rejected. Our acceptance there has upheld that tradition."
Although Saturday's wedding was not the first same-sex union honored by a Christian denomination, it is the first to be officiated by a Methodist bishop. The ceremony was in direct contrast to the church's more than 40-year stand against homosexuality.
Talbert's decision to officiate seemed to echo thousands of supporters, who continue to rally lawmakers across the county to legalize gay marriage.
According to Talbert, his involvement was not politically charged.
"We as the church have the privilege of inviting people to come to God's table, but we do not say which ones can and which ones can't," Talbert told AL.com. "They should not be excluded."
Last year, speaking at the California-Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Talbert urged clergy to liberalize their stand on gay marriage and ignore its own Book of Discipline.
“(The church) experienced another valley in 1972 when the General Conference placed the ‘incompatibility with Christian teaching’ language in our Social Principles regarding gay and lesbian people,” Talbert said in 2012.
The United Methodist Church is the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States and boasts about 7.5 million members. While the church welcomes gays and lesbians, it opposes same-sex marriage and prohibits openly gay ministers.
Worldwide, the church has more than 12 million members and is still considered a conservative denomination.