Church says loophole allows it to perform gay marriages
The Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto, a predominantly (85 percent) homosexual congregation in a predominantly homosexual denomination, says it has found a way to perform legal homosexual marriages. The Ontario Marriage Act allows couples to marry one of two ways: the traditional obtaining of a marriage license from City Hall marriage by a justice of the peace or pastor, or though marriage banns: publishing the names of the couple on three consecutive Sundays preceding a marriage. One thing the Ontario Marriage Act doesn't do is say "man" or "woman"—just "person." The church says that's a big enough loophole. "Until now we have felt restricted from acting on our beliefs by what we thought was a legitimate impediment regarding same-sex weddings," says Brent Hawkes, pastor of the church. "Being called by God to marry same-sex couples, we recently sought legal advice, and as a result we have changed our position on the legality of same-sex marriages." Hawkes says he hopes to beat Dutch churches in being the first to perform the world's first legal gay marriage. But, he tells The Toronto Star, he's had to turn away "scores" of homosexual couples from the U.S. and Canada who want him to marry them—he'll only marry members of his church. Barbara McDowall and Gail Donnelly—whose union has already been blessed by the church—will be the first. Federal officials have responded that the marriage still won't be legal (if you follow that last link, you'll have to scroll down to the fourth item).

Meanwhile, U.S. Methodists make steps toward gay unions in Chicago ...
South of the Canadian border, United Methodists in Chicago and North Carolina are also looking for loopholes to allow gay unions. Gregory Dell, who was suspended in April 1999 for performing a same-sex holy union ceremony, is back on the job and presiding over more unions. He says church law allows for same-sex unions if they happen outside the church. So now both gay and heterosexual couples at the church go outside for the ceremony, then back inside for a celebration. Hmmm. If Dell keeps this up, he might find himself outside the church in more ways than one ... (See more coverage from the Associated Press.)

... and North Carolina
Meanwhile, Methodist-affiliated Duke University has announced it will allow same-sex unions in the famous Duke Chapel. A committee of faculty, staff, students, and trustees recommended that the policy banning such ceremonies be changed, noting that Duke Chapel is more than a Methodist building. Duke University President Nan Keohane and Dean Will Willimon agreed. "Our major rationale for this change is our conviction, in agreement with your committee, that Duke has a wonderful tradition of rich religious diversity," they said in a letter to the committee (reprinted in large part in a Duke press release). "It is not, in our opinion, a matter of the chapel approving or disapproving of this liturgical innovation, but rather a question of how much religious diversity we should accommodate. We now feel, as a result of the discussion on campus during the past three months, and the work of your committee, that we ought to allow these unions to be celebrated by those clergy who are allowed, by their religious communities, to officiate at such ceremonies." Bishop Marion Edwards of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church says that Duke isn't a church, so it's not bound by church policies. But he reiterated what those church policies are: "While acknowledging the sacred worth of homosexual persons and calling for their basic human rights and civil liberties, I uphold the teaching of the church that marriage is between one man and one woman. The clear affirmation of the Scripture calls us to that standard."

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Salvation Army, deemed threat to government, may have to shut down in Russia
The Moscow City Court has ruled that the Salvation Army cannot register with local authorities—which it would have had to do to comply with a controversial law requiring churches and religious organizations to register with the state by the end of the year or face expulsion. "Since we have the word 'army' in our name, they [the court] said we are a militarized organization bent on the violent overthrow of the Russian government," said Colonel Kenneth Baillie, commander of the Salvation Army's Russian operations. And since the ruling comes so close to the December 31 registration deadline, the church may not have time to appeal to the Supreme Court before being expelled. "There's a general wariness and suspicion of foreigners. That's part of Russian culture and certainly part of the religious culture. But we do know that we have been specifically targeted and it's unclear why," Baillie tells The Moscow Times. (See more from the London Telegraph, a May Christianity Today piece about the Salvation Army in Chechnya, a 1997 story by Radio Free Europe on how the religion law might affect the Salvation Army, and a 1998 Chicago Tribune story about the Salvation Army's work in Russia.) Meanwhile, the Salvation Army is also facing a fight in Chicago, as it tries to renovate and expand its facilities in a regentrifying neighborhood. "The Salvation Army was there first. Get over it," says a ChicagoTribune editorial. "If an organization such as this has the rare good fortune to be able to renovate, the only issue should be how to get out of its way fast enough to let it happen."

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