by Darryl Izzard
Arguments have been brewing across the country for the past 12-18 months as recent court rulings on same-sex marriage have surfaced. Your pastor could very likely find himself in the midst of deciding whether to perform the same-sex nuptials or not.
Same-sex marriage, also referred to as gay marriage, is marriage between two persons of the same sex. The federal government of the United States does not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples and is prohibited from doing so by the Defense of Marriage Act. However, gay couples across the country are becoming increasingly vocal about their wishes to be acknowledged and are now hoping to receive the same dignity, respect, services and benefits that any other married couple has.
What is your church or organization\’s position on the issue? Has the meaning of marriage clearly been defined in your church covenant, code of conduct or membership manual? If not, your pastor or church family could be accused of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
A number of churches have been proactive and updated their official membership documents for future legal protection covering them from any possibility of discriminatory accusations. Some have even started to perform gay marriages.
â€œOur church is the first and only traditional black church in the District of Columbia to perform same-sex unions,â€ explains Dennis W. Wiley, Pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. â€œFor us, the courage to perform same-sex unions is in keeping with the proudest traditions of our Baptist and congregational heritage. Within the Baptist tradition of freedom and autonomy, Covenant Baptist Church has a long history of progressive ministry emphasizing social justice, service to the community and inclusion.
Still other Christians vehemently oppose the idea of forcing pastors or justices of the peace by law to perform these ceremonies all in the name of not discriminating.
â€œI do believe that consenting adults have the right to do what they want in the privacy of their own home but, they don’t have the right to impose “their desire” on society as a wholeâ€¦ Let us protect their right to decide to live and commit themselves to one another (same-sex) but, let us not confuse that right with a right to call it “marriage” when in fact their union can never ever contribute to the procreation of the human race.â€ â€“ Brian Neilson, Rhode Island.
But, what if a gay couple in your church decides to ask your pastor to marry them and your pastor refuses. Moreover, what happens if the church refuses to allow the couple to continue as members? Can your pastor or your church be sued for discrimination based on sexual behavior? Possibly, if the church has been operating under an â€œall comersâ€ policy that does not specifically define marriage or it\’s expectation of acceptable Christian behavior! The outcome of the issue may rest largely upon your churches legal bylaws and general membership covenant adopted by your church and distributed to every member.
â€œSeveral years ago, our congregation unanimously adopted a vision statement that we recite together every Sunday morning as a reminder that â€˜all are welcome, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, age or sexual orientation.\’ In leading our congregation to adopt this vision, we knew that one day we would face the question of same-sex marriage,â€ says Pastor Wiley.
Is your church prepared to address the issue? Should your pastor be required to marry couples of the same sex?
Same-sex marriages are currently granted by five of the 50 states, the federal district, and one Indian tribe: In Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., marriages for same-sex couples are legal and currently performed.