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Finance agency extends benefits to same-sex couples

General agencies of the United Methodist Church will extend employee benefits to same-sex couples, under a decision by the board of directors of the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration.

The board in its Monday action changed the general agencies welfare benefits program’s definition of “spouse” to include same-sex spouses, recognized by a state as being legally married to the employee, and civil partners, either through a civil union or a comprehensive domestic partnership, recognized by a state as being the legal partner of an employee.

GCFA announced the decision in a news release Tuesday. The agency’s board took the action after hearing from its Committee on Personnel Policy and Practices, made up of representatives of all 11 agencies that get general apportioned funds.

But GCFA will also ask the Judicial Council, the church’s supreme court, for a declaratory judgment on whether extending the benefits violates church law.

“The Board’s decision was taken in light of actions taken in states where same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships are now the law of the land”, said Bishop Michael J. Coyner, president of GCFA. “Our Board has sought with this action to make policy decisions that stay in conformity with both civil and church law. We look forward to the Judicial Council’s guidance on this matter.”

Paragraph 806.9 of the 2012 Book of Discipline, the church law book, states that GCFA “shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church ‘not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.’”

The GCFA news release said Judicial Council will be asked whether general agency payments for portions of the insurance premiums for same-sex spouses and civil partners of general agency employees violates the Book of Discipline.

Denicia Roberts, GCFA’s executive human resources director, said agency employees can sign up to take advantage of the change during an open enrollment period, beginning Oct. 28. Coverage will be effective Jan. 1.