Churches debate whether to marry gays

As more states legalize same-sex marriage, religious groups grapple with whether to allow ceremonies

RACHEL ZOLL | AP Religion Writer

NEW YORK — After same-sex marriage becomes legal here on July 24, gay priests with partners in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island will head to the altar. They have to. Their bishop set a nine-month deadline for them to marry or stop living together.

Next door, meanwhile, the Episcopal bishop of New York says he also expects gay clergy in committed relationships to wed “in due course.” Still, this longtime supporter of gay rights says churches in his diocese are off limits for gay weddings until he receives clearer liturgical guidance from the national denomination.

As more U.S. states legalize same-sex marriage, religious groups with ambiguous policies on homosexuality are divided over whether they should allow the ceremonies in local congregations. The decision is especially complex in the mainline Protestant denominations that have yet to fully resolve their disagreements over the Bible and homosexuality. Many have taken steps toward acceptance of gay ordination and same-gender couples without changing the official definition of marriage in church constitutions and canons. With the exception of the United Church of Christ, which approved gay marriage six years ago, none of the larger mainline churches has a national liturgy for same-sex weddings or even blessing ceremonies.

The result is a patchwork of church policies in states where gays can civilly wed — not only for lay people, but also for gay clergy who want to marry their partners.

“It’s a challenge for us,” said Tony De La Rosa, administrator of the Presbytery of New York City, a regional body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “I think this is a moment of great tumult in the sights of the church.”

The New York regional body of the United Methodist Church issued a statement reminding local congregations that the Methodist Book of Discipline bars any celebration of same-gender unions, but encouraged congregants to “extend God’s love” to each other, “particularly those with whom we disagree.”

Just last Sunday, the Presbyterian Church formally lifted barriers to ordination for gays and lesbians who are not celibate, although individual congregations had been hiring gay pastors and conducting same-sex blessing ceremonies for years. De La Rosa expects a similar mix of responses to gay marriage laws, even though a minister who conducts a same-gender marriage is at risk of possible disciplinary action by the denomination since the ceremonies are not officially authorized. De La Rosa, who is gay, said he does not plan to wed because the marriage would not be recognized in California, where he and his partner are residents.

New York churches can look for guidance to religious leaders in the five other states where gay marriage is already legal: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa, plus the District of Columbia.

The New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which includes four of the five states with gay marriage, issued a document stating that pastors can choose to solemnize same-sex marriages in individual churches that give their approval. The Upstate New York Synod, which oversees Lutheran churches in the Albany area, distributed that document to local leaders ahead of an upcoming discussion on the gay marriage law. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America formally abolished a celibacy requirement for gay and lesbian clergy more than a year ago, but still defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

The Rev. David Preisinger, an assistant to the Upstate New York bishop, said the bishop has indicated that she will not take action against clergy who perform the ceremonies. He said churches in his region have already received several requests for weddings and believes they will take place soon.

“There are some congregations that are very open to it and others that don’t want anything to do with it,” Preisinger said.

The Episcopal Church blazed a trail, and enraged fellow Anglicans worldwide, in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. On same-sex marriage, Episcopal dioceses have been guided by a 2009 resolution from the General Convention, the church’s top national policy body, that asked for a “generous pastoral response” to gay couples, especially in states with same-sex marriage or civil unions.

However, bishops disagree about what the resolution means. Each has cited the measure when issuing dramatically different policies.

Even before the New York legislature had passed the gay marriage bill last month, Bishop Gladstone Adams, who leads the Syracuse-based Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, had asked the local liturgy committee to draft a rite for same-gender marriage. Adams said individual priests and parishes could decide whether to conduct the ceremonies. He has not yet set a policy on marriage for clergy living with same-gender partners.

In the Diocese of New York, Bishop Mark Sisk said local priests could bless couples who marry elsewhere in a civil ceremony, but could not solemnize the marriages.

“I do not believe that resolution … empowered bishops to authorize clergy to perform such marriages,” Sisk wrote in a statement. “Nor do I believe that it is appropriate for clergy to circumvent the vows we have taken by becoming separately licensed by the state to perform such marriages.”

His position stunned many Episcopalians. The New York diocese is considered so gay-friendly that the local chapter of the national Episcopal gay advocacy group, Integrity, focuses instead on outreach to other gay and lesbians seeking a religious community, according to Mary O’Shaughnessy, New York City coordinator for the organization.

Sisk’s spokesman said the bishop won’t move forward without an approved liturgy. Episcopalians are drafting prayers for blessing same-gender couples that advocates hope will be accepted next year by the General Convention.

O’Shaughnessy said she was disappointed by Sisk’s decision, but said he has “unequivocally” supported gay and lesbian rights and she understands that he has a broad constituency to consider, including parishes in the diocese that lie outside of Manhattan.

Long Island Episcopal Bishop Lawrence Provenzano said there is nothing “punitive” about the nine-month period he set for clergy to marry their partners — a length of time he said was similar to an academic year. No one will be disciplined for failing to meet the deadline. Instead, he said he would handle each priest’s situation on a case-by-case basis. He noted that some private employers are considering restricting domestic partner benefits to those who are legally married.

“I need to be mindful that the church has always asked people to live in committed monogamous, faithful relationships,” Provenzano said. “I won’t allow heterosexual clergy to live in a rectory or church housing without the benefit of marriage. When one puts it in that context, then you see how it all begins to make sense.”

The Rev. Christopher Hofer, pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. Jude in Wantagh, on Long Island, said he has heard no complaints from other gay or lesbian clergy about the policy. Hofer plans a “big” August wedding in his parish with his partner of 17 years, Kerry Brady. They live in the church rectory, where on a recent evening they waited together for a messenger to deliver their wedding rings.

“I think Bishop Provenzano’s statement was not only fair, but beyond generous. It gives people time, acknowledging that there’s a financial component involved, and recognizing that some may not choose to live together,” Hofer said. “Now that the state is recognizing civil marriage, we as priests, perhaps deacons too, who are in committed relationships, have a choice: We either live what we preach, to become civilly married, or we choose to live apart.”

No other Episcopal dioceses in states with same-gender marriage have set an explicit deadline for gay clergy to marry their live-in partners.

Episcopal Bishop John Chane, of the Diocese of Washington, allowed local priests to perform same-sex marriages in parishes that approved the ceremonies, but did not ask clergy to marry or live alone. He said it wouldn’t be fair, since so few states recognize the marriages, and state and federal laws like the Defense of Marriage Act are still in effect and “deny the human rights and disrespect the orientation” of gays and lesbians. He said five gay clergy have married in the Diocese of Washington since same-sex marriages started last year.Churches debate whether to marry gays

—  John Wright

Rethinking tradition • Pride Weddings & Celebrations 2011

From ‘broomsmaids’ to choice of wedding planner, newlyweds Hal Wallace and Johnathon DeJarnett made their nuptials their own

boys to men | DeJarnett and Wallace partake in the tradition of feeding each other cake, but they mixed up the ceremony in other ways to reflect their own gay sensibilities.

By Jef tingley

A straight friend of mine once said, “I am totally against gay weddings. I’ve seen the extravagant lengths the gays go to for theme parties and Halloween, and, quite frankly, I think you’re going to raise the bar too high.”

Clearly she was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but there was also a kernel of truth in her statement: We gays do love to do it up for memorable occasions … or even simple Sunday brunches. Need proof? Look no further than the bearded bears wearing leather and lavish feather bonnets with LED lights at Easter in Lee Park. Or how about that couple who makes a custom Carmen Miranda outfit for their Jack Russell terrier? You know the type.

Yes, with great gayness comes great responsibility. And when Dallas couple Johnathon DeJarnett and Hal Wallace decided to get married, they made sure to keep up some time-honored traditions common to most straight unions … but added a touch of excess (and glitter) to mark it with a trace of fabulosity.

First was the proposal — an unlikely but successful stealth mission.

“Hal proposed to me on Dec. 19, 2009, at our friend’s holiday party,” says DeJarnett. “I was so surprised. He can’t do anything without me hearing about it, so for the entire party to know and me not to was absolutely phenomenal.”

The couple has been together five years, but has known each other much longer. They grew up in the same small town; Wallace was in the same grade as DeJarnett’s older sister.

They cleaved to tradition with a legal, official wedding ceremony in Boston on Aug. 13, but the real fête came on Nov. 20, when they hosted a Dallas wedding dinner and reception for 135 of their closest family and friends.

In keeping with the uniqueness of the event, DeJarnett’s first step was to establish a new member of the wedding party: the “broom.”

“The ‘broom’ started out as a joke,” he explains. “Since I am the obviously more, umm, colorful of the pair, people were playfully calling me the bride. That would be fine if I were a woman. Instead, I started calling myself a hybrid of the bride and groom. I was the ‘broom.’”

Finding a venue was easy — DeJarnett’s has worked for the InterContinental Hotel in Addison for four years. But finding time to plan the affair was another issue — even the best of “brooms” can get overloaded. DeJarnett’s boss, Tamara, served as interim wedding coordinator and assistant to the “broom,” tackling details ranging from cake toppers to toasting flutes.

“Hal works full-time and is a part-time student. I am the exact opposite, working only part-time and I’m a full-time student. Our wedding was right in the middle of my semester. I would receive phone calls with [wedding] questions, and I would just say, ‘ask Tamara,’” laughs DeJarnett.

When not employing the services of Tamara, the couple worked together on the details of their wedding, even designing their own invitations. As DeJarnett tells it, “Hal actually recovered from our duel bachelor party by arranging our flowers with our friends Don and Judy.”

In keeping with their theme of unique combinations, the duo also had a mixture of men and women in their bridal party. “Hal and I had our best friends Kit and Jeff, respectively, as our best men, and they accompanied each other down the aisle. Luckily, they are a couple so no one was uncomfortable,” says DeJarnett. “Then I had my best friends Holly, Vanessa, and Mytzi as my ‘broomsmaids.’ They where escorted through the ceremony by Hal’s groomsmen, Chris, Tim and Josh. And to round off the queen’s court, as it were, were our friends David and Don, who so graciously allowed their holiday party to be high-jacked for our engagement.”

With the wedding ceremony itself nearly five months passed, DeJarnett and Wallace still treasure the photos and memories of their friends and families at their side. But be it brides, grooms, or “brooms,” DeJarnett is quick to point out one common theme lifelong commitment:

“Marriage is not easy. We didn’t start out as Ward and June Cleaver. And we kinda, foolishly, thought that we would just ride off into the sunset,” he says. “Even though the horse left without us, we are still very much committed to our relationship and still very much in love.”

……………………………………..

When kids ParTAKE in SAME-SEX weddings

I love children’s books, especially those with an affirming message for alternative families, and Leslea Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies is one of my favorites. Whenever friends have babies, I make sure it’s in their library. Heather and And Tango Makes Three — that’s the one about the gay penguins that made this year’s list of most complained-about book at libraries — are must-have literature for gay or lesbian parents.

Newman’s latest book, Donovan’s Big Day, is one more to add to the list. Not only does Donovan have two mommies, but they’re getting married.

Donovan is taking his role as ring bearer very seriously. He can’t oversleep. He has to remember to wash and dress in his new clothes. And he can’t forget that white satin box. At the church, he must walk down the aisle very seriously. And he can’t fidget while that poem is being read or the piano is played.

His grandfather wakes him. His aunt meets him at the church. His cousin will be there. Of course the entire family is attending. It’s a wedding — why wouldn’t the whole family be proudly involved?

These are subtle touches, to be sure, but Newman is a master of telling children a simple story and making them feel included. We don’t know that it’s two moms who are getting married until the last few pages when Donovan kisses the brides. The story could have ended with a husband and wife. After all, illustrator Mike Dutton is married — to a woman.

That’s Newman’s point. It’s all about families and it’s all the same.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens