OLYMPIA — Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen’s pastor applauded her decision this week to support legalizing marriage for same-sex couples.
But even if the law changes, Pastor Daniel Sailer won’t be performing weddings any time soon at Stanwood United Methodist Church where Haugen worships.
Not because he doesn’t want to do them. To the contrary, he does, but church rules bar him from doing so.
As a result, he and several other pastors in the Pacific Northwest must live with their belief in marriage equality and their inability to make it a reality.
“It really puts us in a conflict,” Sailer said. “It is a crisis of conscience for many clergy.”
Throughout the faith community and the wedding industry, the questions of who will marry same-sex couples and where ceremonies might be held are becoming relevant as Haugen’s dramatic announcement pushed lawmakers into position to make gay marriage legal.
The state Senate could vote on a bill requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire as early as this week. It would get sent to the House where a majority of support exists. With Gregoire’s signature, the change in law would take effect June 7 unless opponents succeed in getting a referendum on the November ballot.
In that instance, weddings could begin in December if voters uphold the law.
That’s plenty of time for religious leaders and business owners to figure out how they’ll respond. In a sampling of interviews this week, it seemed pretty clear most people already know what they’ll do.
Ready to go
At Temple Beth Or in Everett, Rabbi Jessica Kessler Marshall has conducted commitment ceremonies and looks forward to officiating at weddings of gay and lesbian couples.
The temple is part of the Jewish Reform movement which supports full equality under the law for lesbians and gays, including recognition of their relationships, she said.
“Judaism holds that we are all created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the Eternal,” she said. “These values of equality, justice and human dignity are cherished and I am honored to officiate at same sex marriages.”
Other socially liberal religious leaders say they’ll seek counsel of their congregants on whether to allow weddings within the walls of their houses of worship.
“I, as a pastor, would be honored to bless same-sex couples in marriage,” said Pastor Jocelyn Carson of Trinity Lutheran Church in Everett.
“We will talk about it as a community,” she said. “Trinity Lutheran Church has a long history of welcoming same-sex couples and we will continue to be welcoming as we talk together about how to live out this new possibility of blessing lifelong unions as marriages.”
It’s not personal, it’s the scripture
Marriages of same-sex couples will not be conducted nor celebrated in an abundance of churches where the teachings of the Bible trump the personal beliefs of those in the pulpit.
“All people are to be loved,” said Pastor Bill Walker who is in his 18th year at First Baptist Church of Arlington. “It doesn’t mean we condone what they do if it is contrary to scriptural teaching. To us it is clear — no matter what laws they pass.”
It’s a view echoed in many conversations with those ministering in Christian and Catholic churches.
“It is not up to me. It is up to the church and the church historically recognizes a marriage is between a man and a woman blessed by God,” said the Rev. David Sommer of St. Thomas Orthodox Church in Snohomish. It is part of the international Orthodox Christian Association.
In the teachings to which they adhere, homosexuality is a sin, he said. That makes it pretty clear he would not be able to perform a wedding nor does he want to do so.
An industry view
Hosting nuptials of same-sex couples is not only an issue for the faith community.
Wedding planners, officiants and owners of rental facilities are pondering the financial benefits of an expanded customer base versus the potential cost to one’s professional reputation for involvement in the exchange of vows by gay and lesbian couples.
It’s not a dilemma at all for Gene Brown, manager of the Knights of Columbus Hall in Everett.
The group rents the hall for weddings and receptions but wouldn’t to same-sex couples for those events, he said. While the law allows them to do so as a private membership organization, the real reason is it conflicts with building’s owner — the Catholic Church.
He said it’s only been an issue once. A person inquired about their group renting it for a party and when he learned about the group, Brown declined.
“I told them, ‘Sorry, your orientation conflicts with our beliefs’,” he said.
Commodore Steve Smith of the Everett Yacht Club paused before positing an answer on whether they’d make their facilities available.
“As far as I know, it wouldn’t be an issue,” he said. “It hasn’t been a policy to turn down people for any reason.”
At French Creek Manor near Snohomish, there have been commitment ceremonies and the owners are ready for the new opportunity a gay marriage law will bring.
“I’m in the business to put weddings on,” owner Cindy Sherwood said. “Personally, I don’t think I’ll have any backlash.”
Lynn Hallstrom, owner of A Chapel on Swan’s Trail in Snohomish, said she’s given it a lot of thought and will rent it out for weddings. She knows members of her community oppose the proposed law but is confident they won’t direct their anger at her and her business.
“What I fear most is something gets online and hurts the reputation of the business,” she said. “I’m all about people’s happiness. As long as the two people aren’t hurting each other and are doing it in love, that’s fine.”
The Rev. Darrel McLaughlin of Lynnwood received his ordination online and operates as a reverend-for-hire. He said he’s searched his soul on this since he started his part-time business of officiating at weddings six years ago.
“I’ve always taken the tack that it’s not legal so it’s a moot point,” he said. “Now that we’re getting it, I don’t expect to turn down anybody.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.