Pastors split on performing same-sex weddings

Gay couples in state can begin getting married Dec. 6

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The Rev. Bill Graves said he would marry a same-sex couple because it embodies the golden rule.

The Rev. Arthur Banks said he would not marry a gay couple because it's contrary to the Bible.

Now that Washington voters have approved Referendum 74 legalizing same-sex marriage, pastors and their churches must answer a question that has divided religious groups: Will they give their official blessing to gay and lesbian couples?

Same-sex couples can start getting married in Washington state Dec. 6. With the state's three-day waiting period, the first marriages can be certified Dec. 9. The law doesn't require churches or ministers to perform such weddings.

Graves, minister at Tahoma Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Tacoma, said he would marry a same-sex couple "with the greatest joy and without the slightest hesitation." One lesbian couple already plan to be married by the church in January.

Graves said legalizing same-sex marriage follows the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

"I don't see a reason why we would distinguish between committed, loving relationships," he said.

His 220-member church in Tacoma's South End is part of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which supports same-sex marriage. Graves' church draws on Jewish and Christian teachings, among other religions, and doesn't use the Bible exclusively.

Banks, pastor of 400-member Eastside Baptist Church in Tacoma, said he won't marry same-sex couples because the Bible teaches that same-sex relationships are wrong.

"God's word says it's not natural," Banks said. "I can't support what God has condemned."

Banks said the issue is a matter of biblical principle, not civil rights. "The Bible says marriage is between one man and one woman," he said.

If a same-sex couple were to ask him to marry them, Banks said, he would refuse. He said he has not been asked.

Banks also is president of the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance, a group of 25 pastors. Most of them lead congregations that, like Eastside Baptist, are predominantly black. The ministerial alliance opposed R-74.

At Tahoma Unitarian Universalist, church members Susan Dye and Diane Harney plan to get married Jan. 12. They have been partners for 26 years.

Because of the passage of R-74, they can finally marry.

"It's astounding," Dye said. "In my entire life I never thought I would be able to get married. To have the reality of it now is just incredible."

Harney said gaining the legal right to marry "means the world has caught up with our lives in a way.

"I think it really does mean our life has been validated in a way that it hadn't been," Harney said.

Dye and Harney will be married by another minister from their congregation who is a longtime friend. They're still deciding whether to have their wedding at the church or at another location in Tacoma.

Other churches say they won't perform same-sex weddings.

At Church of Living Water in Olympia, a spokeswoman said its ministers are licensed only to perform weddings between a man and a woman. The 2,000-member congregation is affiliated with The Foursquare Church.

The Rev. Jon Cobler, Living Water's teaching pastor, wasn't available for comment but issued a statement.

"We believe the Bible views marriage as a sacred relationship between one man, one woman and God, not simply as a civil union," Cobler said. "Our responsibility as pastors is to lead people to understand what the Bible declares about moral issues."

Greg Magnoni, spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, said Catholic priests in Western Washington won't be marrying same-sex couples.

Magnoni said same-sex marriage is contrary to church teaching and tradition. The state's Catholic bishops opposed R-74.

The Catholic Church's wedding rite refers to a man and a woman. There's no liturgy for marrying a same-sex couple.

"I couldn't even imagine that happening," Magnoni said.

In Tacoma, two mainline Protestant pastors said they will marry same-sex couples, even though it goes against official policies of their denominations.

The Rev. Dave Brown, pastor of 210-member Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma's North End, said he would marry a same-sex couple.

"It's a matter of pastoral care," said Brown, a pastor with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). "I couldn't withhold that pastoral care from people."

The Rev. Melvin Woodworth, pastor of 100-member First United Methodist Church in downtown Tacoma, said same-sex unions "are compatible with the Holy Scriptures."

"We will marry same-sex couples on the same basis that we have always married heterosexual couples," said Woodworth, who is part of the United Methodist Church.Woodworth said he received his first request Wednesday to officiate at a same-sex wedding. Brown said he expects to be asked soon.