When Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer had to choose between performing his son's gay marriage or alienating some members of his church, he wholeheartedly chose to share in his son's big day. Now, he is on trial for it. The Reverend Schaefer, a Pennsylvania resident, officiated the 2006 marriage of his son, Tim, in Massachusetts. Although gay marriage has been legal in Massachusetts since 2003, it isn't in Pennsylvania. And even though the United Methodist Church accepts gay members, it does not allow ministers to perform same-sex marriages. Frank Schaefer's trial begins today with a 13-member jury at a Methodist retreat in Spring City, Pa., and it is scheduled to last three days. He faces a sentence that could entail anything from essentially a slap on the wrist — to completely losing his church credentials.
Schaefer and his son knew they would potentially be in hot water over the ceremony. But Tim Schaefer, 29, says that if he didn't ask his father, he knew it would hurt his feelings. And Frank Schaefer, 51, says that he had to "follow his heart" and agreed to perform the marriage.
The Rev. Schaefer says he made his superiors aware of the decision to officiate the ceremony in Massachusetts. No opposition was voiced until an official complaint with the church was filed just 26 days before a statute of limitations would've run out. If Schaefer vowed to never again perform a gay marriage ceremony, he could bypass a trial. But he says he could not do that, because three of his four children are gay.
Even though he's admitted that some members of his congregation have left because of his decision, Schaefer is sticking to his guns, even if the church disagrees. “There’s something wrong when we have a paragraph in our discipline that excludes people from receiving the same ministry that everybody else receives,” Schaefer says.
Growing up as the son of a pastor, Tim Schaefer says he faced distress over his homosexuality. He says he once prayed to change and even contemplated suicide. But when he came out to his parents, he says they fully accepted him and never looked back. "If that's the case, this is the way God made him," Frank Schaefer says. "This is the way he was created, as a homosexual."
In what has been a banner year for LGBTQ rights, it's clear that traditional views are changing. Just last week, Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize gay marriage, following similar actions from Illinois and New Jersey.
Even the Cheney sisters took to Facebook to argue about the issue: Mary Cheney, a lesbian, called out her sister Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Senate GOP hopeful, for being "on the wrong side of history" after Liz restated her staunch views on traditional marriage during an interview.
Tim Schaefer remains optimistic about his dad's trial. "Public opinion has changed very rapidly," says Tim Schaefer. "I hope this leads to a renewed conversation to revisit these policies to see if they are a little archaic."