Since 1972, the Book of Discipline has called same-gender relationships "incompatible with Christian teaching" and has banned clergy from taking actions contrary to that position: No ordinations or clergy appointments are allowed for "self-avowed practicing homosexuals." No "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions" are permitted in churches. No clergy can preside at the ceremonies no matter where the events are held.
The church has also declared itself "dedicated to a ministry of Christ-like hospitality and compassion to persons of all sexual orientations" and has committed to supporting "certain basic human rights and civil liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation."
Theological conservatives see no inconsistencies among those positions. Advocates for gays and lesbians do. They have debated at every national legislative meeting, or General Conference, for four decades with the same result: the "incompatible" language — and the related prohibitions — have stayed.
Frustration over the lack of change fueled the new movement to openly defy church law, starting in 2011 in Minnesota and New York. Methodist ministers had already been quietly officiating at same-gender ceremonies in some communities for years. A few of the more publicly defiant clergy had faced formal complaints or had been tried by the church. But the public marriage pledges brought new energy to the campaign.
By the spring of 2012, when General Conference had gathered in Florida, more than 1,100 clergy had signed on. But within the legislative meeting, delegates were unmoved. The conference once again voted to keep the status quo.
On the final day of the assembly, at a gathering of Methodists who support gay marriage, Talbert announced, "The time for talking is over."
"I declare to you that the derogatory language and restrictive laws in the Book of Discipline are immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience," Talbert told the cheering crowd. "I call on the more than 1,100 clergy who have signed the pledge to stand firm on their resolve to perform marriages among same-sex persons, same-sex couples, and to do so in the normal course of their pastoral duties, thus defying the laws that prohibit them from doing so."