On left: Joe Openshaw (left) and Bobby Prince are married at Covenant Community United Church of Christ in Center Point., Ala. Retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert officiated. Photos by the Rev. Laura Rossbert, Reconciling Ministries Network.

On right: United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert (left) speaks to other United Methodist clergy who attended the wedding for Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw in Center Point, Ala. At right is the Rev. Kevin Higgs, pastor of Brownsville United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

A UMNS Report by Kathy L. Gilbert*

CENTER POINT, Ala. (UMNS) — “These are two men, created in the image of God, loyal United Methodists, servants of Jesus Christ and in love with each other,” said retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin G. Talbert as he pronounced them united in marriage.

Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw were married Oct. 26 in Covenant Community Church, which is United Church of Christ, because United Methodist polity does not allow same-sex marriages in United Methodist churches and does not allow United Methodist ordained clergy to officiate.

Talbert’s decision to perform the ceremony has created much controversy within The United Methodist Church since the announcement of plans for the ceremony.

The executive committee of the United Methodist Council of Bishops issued a statement Oct. 23 urging “Bishop Melvin Talbert not to perform the same-gender marriage in Birmingham” and noting that the resident bishop, Debra Wallace-Padgett, had “requested him not to come to the Birmingham Area for this purpose.”

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, affirms “the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.” Church law bans United Methodist clergy from performing and churches from hosting “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”

“It is a great privilege to host this momentous event,” Talbert said. “Every day is a good day to celebrate. Let’s celebrate Bobby and Joe’s love.”

Talbert told the wedding guests that the two asked him to officiate after their pastor said she could not perform the marriage in their local church, Discovery United Methodist.

“Our Book of Discipline says The United Methodist Church does not condone homosexuality … we thank Covenant Community for granting their facilities for this wedding,” he said.

United Methodist pastors from the North Alabama Conference as well as from other states attended the wedding to stand in solidarity with Talbert. Before the ceremony Talbert gathered them together to thank them for being there and to pray for their protection.

“I promised to do the right thing no matter what, and I thank you for your acts of grace and love for Bobby and Joe.”
Prince’s voice broke and he cried as the two men exchanged vows, rings and roses.

At the end of the ceremony, the wedding guests stood and applauded as the couple walked down the aisle holding hands.

* Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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