Mormon in legal gay marriage faces cutoff

Associated Press/March 15, 2006
By Jennifer Dobner

Salt Lake City -- A gay man who is a lifetime member of the Mormon church could be facing disciplinary action and excommunication after legally marrying his partner in Canada.

Buckley Jeppson, 57, said he's been informed verbally by a senior church leader that his life is incompatible with the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that a disciplinary council will address the matter.

Jeppson, of Washington, D.C., married Mike Kessler in Toronto on Aug. 27, 2004.

It is believed that if Jeppson is excommunicated, it would be the first time a Mormon in a legal, same-sex marriage was punished by the church, said Olin Thomas, executive director of Affirmation, an advocacy and education group for gay Mormons.

Jeppson said that over the past five months Nolan Archibald, the senior leader - or president - of a group of Mormon congregations in the Washington area, has encouraged Jeppson to resign his church membership, which would avoid disciplinary action.

Jeppson is unwilling to do that.

"It's not going to be my choice to deny my heritage and my faith," Jeppson said in a telephone interview from his home.

Contacted by The Associated Press, Archibald declined specific comment, saying he has a sacred duty to keep matters involving church members confidential. "I would like to say, it's a total misrepresentation of the conversation we had," Archibald said.

The Mormon church only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman, Salt Lake City-based church spokeswoman Kim Farah said. Where other forms of marriage are legal, only those in heterosexual marriages could be members of the church, she said.

Baptized church members promise to live the principles of the Gospel, Farah said.

"If the person later decides to reject these core principles, they have the right and freedom to do so," she said. "However, they cannot reasonably expect to reject the most fundamental teachings of the church and still wrap themselves in the cloak of church membership. Of course, they would be welcome to continue to attend church services."

In the Mormon church, disciplinary action is taken when church leaders believe a person's behavior or actions are incompatible with church teachings and threaten to damage the church.

In the past, members have been excommunicated for reasons ranging from criminal acts to scholarly works in history and theology that contradicted church claims. Excommunication means that a person is removed from church rolls and can no longer take the sacrament, teach or preach in church or go inside church temples.

Copies of letters written by Jeppson to Archibald, which Jeppson gave to the AP, indicate the men have been discussing Jeppson's choice - resignation or disciplinary action - since November.

Jeppson does not expect to prevail in any disciplinary action, nor does he expect the church to accept same-sex marriage. Given the choice, Jeppson said his preference would be for the church to ignore him.

"I'm not attending in a dress or wearing a boa or anything," Jeppson said. "I show up in my suit and white shirt and split after sacrament meeting. I just want to participate and I want to worship quietly in a safe place."

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