Churches prep for gay weddings

Published 8:47 am Monday, July 22, 2013

McClatchy Tribune
Information Services

MINNEAPOLIS — Karl Starr and Christopher Haug pledged their love for each other on the altar of Central Lutheran Church — preparing for the day they will walk into Minnesota history.

The two men will be among the first wave of gay couples to wed legally in a church after Aug. 1, when same-sex couples can start getting married in Minnesota. On Wednesday, Starr and Haug rehearsed their Sept. 14 ceremony at the downtown Minneapolis church with the Rev. D. Foy Christopherson.

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“We’ve both grown up Lutheran, and we’re not willing or ready to give that up … this is our community,” said Haug, 56. “A lot of our friends are people we know through church. So we want them to be able to rejoice with us as well.”

Houses of worship that recognize same-sex unions are adjusting to the redefinition of marriage in Minnesota. The new dynamics require new language — no more “I now pronounce you man and wife” — and ceremonial changes.

For Christopherson, using the term “marriage” will be one of the biggest changes. Central Lutheran pastors have held religious “blessing” ceremonies for same-sex couples since about 2000.

The right choice of words is demanding attention by other churches as well.

At Edina Morningside Community Church, a United Church of Christ congregation, the Rev. Rosemary Rocha will be performing her first same-sex marriage at the church next month. When talking to the two men who want to be married by her, Rocha said she asked them, “Do I pronounce you husband and husband? … I think we’re looking at I’m to pronounce them ‘married?’”

“I’ve been learning along the way,” Rocha added. “Because we don’t have a big population of LGBT people in our church, it’s important for me to educate and familiarize myself with some of the issues. You can’t just go assuming … there are some things that might be the same for same-gender and male-female weddings. But what does it mean for a gay couple … who have been in love, cared about people, and been denied this? ”


Not all churches agree

Religious ceremonies are typically not governed by state law, so Catholics and other churches that don’t recognize same-sex marriage are not required to marry gay couples — or any couples, for that matter. While gay couples can seek a civil marriage outside of religious venues, others want a legal marriage ceremony in a church.

Some of the more liberal-leaning mainstream Protestant churches recognize same-sex unions and have been performing religious “blessing” ceremonies for gay couples for years. But even within those denominations, there is not always consensus about whether to perform same-sex marriages.

In Minnesota, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is the state’s second-largest denomination with close to 800,000 followers. Bishops who lead the St. Paul and Minneapolis ELCA synods issued statements to congregations emphasizing that it’s up to congregations to decide whether they want to perform gay weddings. The bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota issued a similar message.

Bishop Bruce Caldwell, who leads St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, said the church set up a booth in Loring Park during the Pride Festival in June advertising that it would perform gay weddings. So far, about eight same-sex weddings are scheduled at the church, he said.

“These folks really do want to get married and commit their lives to one another in a faithful union before God,” Caldwell said.


Churches adapting

John Green, a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio who has written extensively about politics and religion, said churches that recognize same-sex unions will adapt as time goes on.

“This often involves a process of education, since not all members of these congregations are equally comfortable with same-sex marriage,” he said.

“Other congregations are more subtle, allowing such ceremonies but without calling special attention to particular nuptials. Sometimes the clergy will perform the ceremony but not in a church building.

“There are lots of ways that churches who recognize these kinds of unions adjust to new laws.”

Doris Ferguson and Lorna Lapp have been together nearly 19 years and plan to wed in October at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul. Ferguson, 55, intends to wear a mint green dress and will be escorted down the aisle by her brother. Lapp, 63, wearing a black dress with a sash matching the color of Ferguson’s dress, will be escorted by the couple’s son.

As for the traditional words to present the married couple, “Obviously at the end of the ceremony, you’re not going to say, ‘This man and woman?’” Lapp said. “We want him to say ‘partners in life?’”

Ferguson said it was important she and Lapp be married at Gloria Dei because they “feel so much a part of that community.

“I suppose we could have done [a blessing ceremony] before the eyes of God years ago,” Ferguson said. “But I guess there was something about the legislation that we wanted. We both just felt it in our heart that was important.”