c. 2000 Religion News Service
Three years after a Nebraska pastor performed a commitment ceremony for two women and touched off a swirling tornado of controversy in the United Methodist Church, the two women have split after one of them decided to become a man.
The 1997 ceremony led to a divisive church trial of the Rev. Jimmy Creech. He was narrowly acquitted in 1998 but then eventually defrocked for performing a second ceremony in North Carolina.
Creech was stripped of his credentials for violating a church ban against presiding at same-sex union ceremonies. He later left full-time ministry and is now a writer and gay rights advocate living in North Carolina.
The ceremony and the subsequent church trial opened a Pandora's box of unimaginable proportions; the failure of the relationship also raises questions--at least in some minds--as to whether gay relationships are stable enough to support the institution of marriage.
The two women, known as Mary and Martha, split in May 1999 after Martha became "Martin" and started living as a man. Their story was disclosed in the July 18 issue of The Advocate, a national gay and lesbian magazine.
Creech told Religion News Service he didn't know Martha was struggling with her transgender identity when he performed the ceremony. It wasn't until later that the two women talked to him about it, and Creech said both women felt it would not be a problem in their relationship.
But when Martha started dressing and living as a man, the attraction between the two women started to fade, even though Creech said they remained committed to each other.
"Their love for each other did not come to an end," Creech said. "They still love and support and respect one another. But the kind of intimacy they had before was lost, and that kind of intimacy is fundamental to a marriage."
Still, Creech said he does not regret performing the ceremony, and would have done it even if he knew that Martha would eventually become Martin.
"The crucial standard by which any relationship is judged is what is given and received between the couple," Creech said. "It's not the duration, but it's the depth and quality of it (that matters)."
Meeting earlier this year in Cleveland, the 8.4 million-member United Methodist Church reaffirmed its ban on same-sex ceremonies and gay ordination. More than 200 people--including two bishops--were arrested in protests over the policies.
Some church conservatives see the Mary and Martha saga as proof that gay relationships are, in the church's words, "incompatible with Christian teaching."
"To begin with, marriage is between one man and one woman and anything else is not acceptable," said Patricia Miller, executive director of the evangelical Confessing Movement. "This just reinforces that these relationships are not appropriate."
Creech said it would be unfair for anyone to draw conclusions about gay relationships from the Mary and Martha story. "This is not a paradigm for gay and lesbian couples," he said. "This is completely different."
Martin, who is now living in Wisconsin with another female transsexual, said his relationship with Mary or anyone else does not need the church's approval because it has already been blessed by God.
"I don't think God has us go through things without a plan," Martin told The Advocate. "I am who I am today because of my female past. And I continue to have a lot of faith in God. The church laws are made by man. God's law is a lot higher."