Appeals panel reverses Methodist pastor's defrocking over gay marriage issue

"To call myself a reverend again... means so much to me."

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Frank Schaefer was restored as a Methodist minister on Tuesday after a Maryland appeals court found that his defrocking sentence was unjust.

The Pennsylvania pastor was suspended, then removed of his ministerial credentials after it was discovered in 2013 that he had officiated his son's same-sex marriage ceremony in Massachusetts in 2007.

He was fired from Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in December after he stated that he could no longer uphold the Book of Discipline, and refused to resign.

After Tuesday's ruling, the Committee on Appeals for the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church awarded Schaefer back pay retroactive to December, and reinstated him. They found that "revoking his credentials cannot be squared with the well-established principle that our clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future," according to the Associated Press.

Schaefer was jubilant after the decision.

"I've devoted my life to this church, to serving this church, and to be restored and to be able to call myself a reverend again and to speak with this voice means so much to me," he told the AP.

He also stated that he plans continue being a same-sex advocate "with an even stronger voice from within the United Methodist Church."

After his termination, Schaefer toured the country speaking out against the church's policies against gay marriage and gay clergy, and wrote a book, "Defrocked," about his ordeal. A documentary film and a play about Schaefer's case are also in the works.

The pastor said it was important to him to share his story.

"I was silent for too long," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I will not refuse ministry to anybody based on their sexual orientation. We have to stop harming beloved children of God."

It is unknown whether the church plans to challenge the appeals court's decision.

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