SPECIAL REPORT: Which churches sanction gay marriage?


Valerie Urbanik | Civitas Media

The Rev. Mary Grigolia of Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship married a same-sex couple on July 5.

Churches are split on how to handle gay marriages now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment ensures equal rights for same-sex couples.

Following the high court’s decision, we reached out to churches in our area to find which will and which will not perform weddings between two men or two women.

We found diverse views.

Of the 54 churches we called across our Amherst, Oberlin, and Wellington coverage areas, seven said their pastors would officiate over gay weddings, 30 said they would not, and 15 declined to comment or did not return multiple calls seeking comment. Two churches did not have a clear answer.

In Wellington, 14 churches said they would not perform a same-sex wedding if approached by a gay couple, regardless of whether they were members of the church or not.

One pastor said he would perform weddings for same-sex couples.

The Rev. Brian Burke, pastor at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, said if approached he would wed any consenting couple, though he’s not sure whether he will be allowed to do so inside the church building.

“I’m sure it goes against the majority in Wellington,” he said. “I just see God’s love as very expansive, broader than what we are willing to imagine.”

“The Supreme Court decision is really a civil rights decision and I’ve always felt that gay couples should have the same civil rights as married couples when they’re in committed relationships,” he said.

Burke said the Bible can be interpreted in different ways by different people and isn’t always literal.

The Old Testament, he was quick to point out, forbids eating pork, rabbit, and shrimp but those cultural observations have been left behind by modern Christians.

“We all pick and choose what’s in scripture. I pick and choose,” he said.

He planned to meet with his congregation after press time to discuss the topic further.

Some churches are more accepting of the idea of gay marriage than others.

For example, Pastor Paul Wilson at First United Methodist Church said he would marry a gay or lesbian couple if he were allowed by his denomination.

“I think the bottom line is marriage is a civil thing,” he said. “It’s not just a religious thing, it’s a civil thing, so people have the right to get married as far as I’m concerned. I have always felt like that myself, although I’ve never been able to do a same-sex wedding.”

Wilson, a former professional ballet dancer, said he’s known several people who were gay or lesbian but does not believe it is a choice — “Love is love,” he said.

“But my bottom line is no matter how you feel about it, if you’re for or against it, you’re called to forgive each other and to try to live in harmony,” he said. “So beyond my personal feelings of ‘Gay people should be allowed to marry,’ — that’s my personal feeling not my church’s feeling — beyond that we’re just called to love each other and care for each other and that should be our first motivation.”

The United Methodist Church has a general conference every four years. Wilson said clergy will discuss the issues of gay pastors and gay marriages at the next conference in 2016.

Wilson said he doubts he’ll ever be able to officiate at the wedding of a same-sex couple, but realizes the church may lose its relevancy if it doesn’t change with society.

Several churches in the village were adamant that the Bible and church doctrine prohibit same-sex marriage.

The Rev. James Reymann of St. Patrick Catholic Church is among those who think the high court made the wrong decision and was “surprised and terribly disappointed” with the outcome.

“The Supreme Court does not rule for the Catholic church,” he said. “A marriage is one man and one woman and that’s forever and it’s just that simple.”

Wilson disagreed, saying several practices included in the Bible — such as slavery and polygamy — are now considered wrong and illegal. He thinks it’s only a matter of time before non-supporters realize denying people the right to marry is wrong too.

Other religious leaders, such as Pastor Gary West of Christ Community Church, wanted to make it clear that although they will not perform weddings for same-sex couples they do not wish anyone ill.

West said gay couples attend his services: “They know our belief and our stance on those relationships but we treat them with the same respect and dignity we would anyone else even though we believe their relationship is contrary to God’s word,” he said.

Many other religious organizations have drawn lines in the sand on the national and international levels.

To date, same-sex marriage has been sanctioned by the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church, Quakers (Society of Friends), Unitarian Universalist Church, Conservative Jewish Movement, and Reform Jewish Movement.

Others, like the Roman Catholic Church, have explicitly prohibited same-sex marriage: American Baptist Churches, the Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Orthodox Jewish Movement, and Islam.

The Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling is clear – clergy who oppose gay and lesbian unions are not required to perform such weddings.

It’s likely, however, that their resolve will be tested in coming years.

That’s because public opinion continues to swing in favor of marriage equality.

A full 57 percent of the U.S. population now supports same-sex marriage, according to a Pew Research survey released in early June. Only 37 percent of respondents said they oppose it.

Those attitudes reflect a marked change since 2001. The numbers have almost exactly flip-flopped in the past 14 years.

And it’s not just the young whose minds have changed.

Pew found that same-sex marriage favorability has risen significantly across the Silent Generation (1928-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), and Millennials (1981 and older).

A positive shift is also evident among religious groups, though not to quite the same extent.

White evangelical Protestants still take the hardest line in the U.S. with only 27 percent favoring same-sex marriage. Thirty-three percent of black Protestants approve.

Among Catholics, a majority – 56 percent – favor same-sex marriage, and 62 percent of white “mainline” Protestants approve.

Those who say they are religious but unaffiliated with any group are the most supportive at 85 percent.

A huge split is also visible along political lines.

Democrats and Independents each largely favor gay marriage, with 65 percent in support. Only 34 percent of Republicans approve.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter. Valerie Urbanik and Kelsey Leyva contributed to this story.

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CHURCH NAME WILL OFFICIATE WILL NOT OFFICIATE DECLINED TO COMMENT UNDECIDED
OBERLIN
Mount Zion Baptist Church X
Calvary Baptist Church X
Grace Lutheran Church X
Park Street Seventh-Day Adventist Church X
The First Church in Oberlin X
Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship X
East Oberlin Community Church X
First United Methodist Church X
Rust United Methodist Church X
Life Builders Foursquare Church X
Christ Episcopal Church X
Oberlin Missionary Alliance Church X
Pittsfield Community Church X
Peace Community Church X
Oberlin Friends (Quakers) X
Christ Temple Apostolic Church X
Sacred Heart Church X
Abundant Grace Evangelical Free Church X
Green Pastures Baptist Church X
The Kipton Community Church X
Oberlin House of the Lord Fellowship X
AMHERST
Family Fellowship Foursquare Church X
New Beginnings Church of Christ X
Freedom House X
Amherst Church of the Nazarene X
Trinity Evangelical Free Church X
St. Paul Lutheran Church X
Good Shepherd Baptist Church X
Eversprings Missionary Baptist Church X
Heritage Presbyterian Church X
Great Lakes Church X
Cornerstone Community Church X
St. Joseph Catholic Church X
Nativity BVM Catholic Church X
Amherst Congregational United Church of Christ X
St. Peter’s United Church of Christ X
A Fresh Wind Church X
Amherst United Methodist Church X
Faith Baptist Church X
WELLINGTON
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church X
First Congregational United Church of Christ X
First United Methodist Church X
Pittsfield Community Church X
Camden Baptist Church X
Brighton United Methodist Church X
Rochester United Methodist Church X
Wellington Freewill Baptist Church X
United Church of Huntington X
Lincoln Street Chapel X
New Life Assembly of God X
Penfield Community Church X
Bethany Lutheran Church X
First Baptist Church X
Christ Community Church X
Note: Churches that did not reply to phone messages seeking a stance were counted in the “declined to comment” column.