SPECIAL REPORT: Which churches sanction gay marriage?

Courtesy photo Sandy and Denna Burtshcer were wed July 5 at Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Churches are split on how to handle gay marriages now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment ensures equal rights for same-sex couples.

Following the high court’s decision, we reached out to churches in our area to find which will and which will not perform weddings between two men or two women.

We found diverse views.

Of the 54 churches we called across our Amherst, Oberlin, and Wellington coverage areas, seven said their pastors would officiate over gay weddings, 30 said they would not, and 15 declined to comment or did not return multiple calls seeking comment. Two churches did not have a clear answer.

In Oberlin, where we called 21 churches, five said their pastors would officiate over gay weddings, seven said they would not, and nine declined to comment or did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

The First Church in Oberlin, First United Methodist Church, Oberlin Friends (Quakers), Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Christ Episcopal Church, and Peace Community Church support gay and lesbian marriages, but not all of them are allowed to perform a same-sex wedding.

The Rev. Derek Kubilus of First United Methodist Church is one of the pastors who cannot perform the ceremony even though his members support it.

“The United Methodist Church as a whole does not support same-sex marriage and does not allow ministers to perform same-sex marriages or allow their buildings to be used for same-sex ceremonies,” he said.

His church is part of the Reconciling Ministries Network along with other Methodist churches that are trying to change the denomination’s stance.

“This church as a whole would like to see that rule change,” Kubilus said. The Methodist church will hold a conference next year to vote on changing the rule.

The other four churches in support of same-sex marriage have held commitment ceremonies in the past and one church has wed a couple since the ruling.

The Rev. Mary Grigolia of Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship officiated July 5 over the wedding of Sandy and Denna Burtscher.

Grigolia said she has done 30 to 40 commitment ceremonies in the past, the first in 1988. The congregation was excited to take part in the Burtschers’ ceremony.

“It was the first time I have done a same-sex marriage and signed a license afterward,” she said. “It was just a beautiful ceremony.”

The couple has been together 19 years and lives in Erie County.

They were thrilled with the Supreme Court’s ruling but wanted to move quickly to get married before any laws were changed in Ohio.

“There was a sense of urgency,” Denna said. “We needed to move quickly to get married when it was still legal.”

Sandy said the ruling allows them to be legally married in Ohio with all of the responsibilities and protections afforded to other couples.

The Burtschers picked up a marriage license the day of the ruling and immediately began searching for a church to get married. That’s when they found the Unitarian Church in Oberlin.

Sandy said Grigolia offered to marry the couple after the church’s ceremony on Sunday.

“It was faith,” she said. “That church opened their heart to us.”

The Rev. David Hill of First Church in Oberlin said his church started supporting LGBTQ people 20 years ago.

“We have had same-sex blessing ceremonies in this church already,” he said. “We will continue to celebrate that. I would handle it the same way I handle opposite-sex people.”

Some pastors told the News-Tribune there is no such movement among their congregations.

“I would not feel comfortable,” said the Rev. Mark Petras of Abundant Grace Evangelical Free Church, the only one from Oberlin to enumerate his stance against gay marriage on the record.

Roman Catholic parishes in our area directed us to the Cleveland Diocese, which issued a formal statement endorsing only marriage between one man and one woman.

“Every nation has laws limiting who can be married and under what circumstances. This is because lawmakers always have understood that marriage does not exist just for the mutual satisfaction of the two people involved, but for the betterment of society,” it said. “Traditional marriage is the cradle of the family, the basic building block of society. As Pope Francis has reminded us, every child has a right to be raised by two parents, a father and a mother. Both parents are important and they are not interchangeable.”

The Diocese statement called the Supreme Court’s decision “disappointing and worrisome.”

“It’s not something we adhere to,” said Robert Tayek, spokesman for the Diocese.

Many other religious organizations have drawn lines in the sand on the national and international levels.

To date, same-sex marriage has been sanctioned by the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church, Quakers (Society of Friends), Unitarian Universalist Church, Conservative Jewish Movement, and Reform Jewish Movement.

Others, like the Roman Catholic Church, have explicitly prohibited same-sex marriage: American Baptist Churches, the Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Orthodox Jewish Movement, and Islam.

The Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling is clear – clergy who oppose gay and lesbian unions are not required to perform such weddings.

It’s likely, however, that their resolve will be tested in coming years.

That’s because public opinion continues to swing in favor of marriage equality.

A full 57 percent of the U.S. population now supports same-sex marriage, according to a Pew Research survey released in early June. Only 37 percent of respondents said they oppose it.

Those attitudes reflect a marked change since 2001. The numbers have almost exactly flip-flopped in the past 14 years.

And it’s not just the young whose minds have changed.

Pew found that same-sex marriage favorability has risen significantly across the Silent Generation (1928-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), and Millennials (1981 and older).

A positive shift is also evident among religious groups, though not to quite the same extent.

White evangelical Protestants still take the hardest line in the U.S. with only 27 percent favoring same-sex marriage. Thirty-three percent of black Protestants approve.

Among Catholics, a majority – 56 percent – favor same-sex marriage, and 62 percent of white “mainline” Protestants approve.

Those who say they are religious but unaffiliated with any group are the most supportive at 85 percent.

A huge split is also visible along political lines.

Democrats and Independents each largely favor gay marriage, with 65 percent in support. Only 34 percent of Republicans approve.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter. Valerie Urbanik and Kelsey Leyva contributed to this story.


Mount Zion Baptist Church X
Calvary Baptist Church X
Grace Lutheran Church X
Park Street Seventh-Day Adventist Church X
The First Church in Oberlin X
Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship X
East Oberlin Community Church X
First United Methodist Church X
Rust United Methodist Church X
Life Builders Foursquare Church X
Christ Episcopal Church X
Oberlin Missionary Alliance Church X
Pittsfield Community Church X
Peace Community Church X
Oberlin Friends (Quakers) X
Christ Temple Apostolic Church X
Sacred Heart Church X
Abundant Grace Evangelical Free Church X
Green Pastures Baptist Church X
The Kipton Community Church X
Oberlin House of the Lord Fellowship X
Family Fellowship Foursquare Church X
New Beginnings Church of Christ X
Freedom House X
Amherst Church of the Nazarene X
Trinity Evangelical Free Church X
St. Paul Lutheran Church X
Good Shepherd Baptist Church X
Eversprings Missionary Baptist Church X
Heritage Presbyterian Church X
Great Lakes Church X
Cornerstone Community Church X
St. Joseph Catholic Church X
Nativity BVM Catholic Church X
Amherst Congregational United Church of Christ X
St. Peter’s United Church of Christ X
A Fresh Wind Church X
Amherst United Methodist Church x
Faith Baptist Church X
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church X
First Congregational United Church of Christ X
First United Methodist Church X
Pittsfield Community Church X
Camden Baptist Church X
Brighton United Methodist Church X
Rochester United Methodist Church X
Wellington Freewill Baptist Church X
United Church of Huntington X
Lincoln Street Chapel X
New Life Assembly of God X
Penfield Community Church X
Bethany Lutheran Church X
First Baptist Church X
Christ Community Church X
Note: Churches that did not reply to phone messages seeking a stance were counted in the “declined to comment” column.