(The Outlook website has this post up too, though comments here aren’t moderated as they are there so they pop up more quickly. I’ll keep this post up too.)
An Explanation of the Procedural Questions on the Definition of Marriage at General Assembly
Way too early, Friday Morning at GA in Minneapolis….
I’m seeing lots of questions and concerns on Twitter about what happened last night at General Assembly. Folks might be confused some complex parliamentary procedure things went down, and it’s especially difficult to follow new motions when watching the live feed of GA online.
A quite accurate 140-character summary that caught on last night reads:
PCUSA marriage debate wrap-up: We don’t really feel like hashing this out right now, so meet back here in two years? YES.
In fact, I think that quick summary is a valid analysis, but for a few more than 140 characters, read on. I’m too exhausted to write in paragraphs, so I’ll just interrogate myself:
Q: Was that fair?
A: Yes. There’s no doubt in my mind the assembly acted in accordance to correct Robert’s Rules of Order.
Q: So why are some so angry?
A: Because folks were prepared to speak to the motion of the General Assembly Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee to change the definition of marriage on our Book of Order to read between “to people” instead of “a man and a woman.” This change passed the committee by a vote of 34 to 18. People were prepared to speak to this particular motion of the committee, however the motion never came up.
Q: What do you mean, “it didn’t come up?” I thought you’ve posted before on the importance of “minority voice” within Robert’s Rules?
A: Indeed, but the assembly voted (348-324), in essence, not to go there – and rather to answer all pending items before the committee by affirming a tradition definition of marriage.
Q: Huh? Say that in another way.
A: The assembly never had a motion on the floor to change the definition of marriage. Instead, the question before the assembly essentially was, “should we have the discussion on changing the definition of marriage tonight or not?” I think this is what threw some people for a loop. They were all excited to get to speak for or against defining marriage “between two people” and instead they had to speak about whether to speak about it or not.
Q: Could the assembly vote today to reconsider and have the discussion?
A: Only if somebody changed the vote and called to reconsider. (My analysis: said person would have to be really organized and eloquent, and have some backup ready at several microphones because assemblies very rarely want to make more work for themselves.)
Q: So what do you think? Was what went down appropriate?
A: Technically yes. Perfectly. The rules were followed completely. But, I do think it’s unfortunate some feel like they didn’t have an opportunity to speak to what was on their heart – the not-quite-yet-proposed change in the definition of marriage. My guess is that such a debate would not have changed the assembly’s mind – I don’t think this assembly would have voted to change the definition of marriage even if they argued about it all night – but, they might have acted on a more moderate proposal they didn’t discuss which would have given an Authoritative Interpretation on our current constitution which would read:
Since several states have recognized that marriage is a fundamental right for all persons, and since the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship can be interpreted as descriptive and therefore does not mandate that a marriage contract must be only between a man and a woman, the 219th General Assembly (2010) declares that in the states which authorize same-gender marriage, pastors may officiate at such marriages in the context of Christian worship.
The action of the assembly to answer “all pending items” with the traditional definition also meant they didn’t address this overture directly either.
Q: Wow. This all sounds so political and confusing. What’s up with that?
A: Well, yes, it is. I think of Winston Churchill who is said to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.” So I say: the way we do things ain’t always pretty, but it’s what we got.
UPDATE: Motion to reconsider failed 275-407, 40% – 60%. The tweet quoted early in this post remains valid.
(Thanks for reading, see also my post: The Questions Coming Sunday Morning on The Outlook blog.)