Listen: Some congregations debate whether to perform same-sex weddings

MPR’s Sasha Aslanian looks at discussions happening in different religious communities in the state after same-sex marriage became law. Religious institutions played a big role in the long, emotional and sometimes contentious debate Minnesotans had leading up to the Legislature's vote to legalize same-sex marriage.


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REPORTER: In Minnesota's new marriage law goes into effect August 1, same-sex marriages will be legal. But it's not that simple for faith communities that have been wrestling with questions involving sexual orientation for decades. The law creates new urgency for many congregations about whether they'll perform these weddings. The Methodists are one such group torn over the issue, and they have a unique history on the matter in Minnesota. Sasha Aslanian has our story.

SASHA ASLANIAN: On September 3, 1971, Roger Lynn performed a wedding that would define his career as a United Methodist minister.

ROGER LYNN: I would call it was a hot day and the home was a large Victorian home in south Minneapolis.

SASHA ASLANIAN: The marriage ceremony Lynn performed in that Victorian home 42 years ago was for two men, Jack Baker and Mike McConnell. Lynn was a last-minute fill-in as officiant after another Methodist minister backed out. Lynn believed it was the right thing to do. Lynn has been retired for a decade, but he still vividly recalls the moment he pronounced Baker and McConnell husband and husband.

ROGER LYNN: And they kissed each other, and it a very passionate kiss. And it was just this strong sense of my own, like, this is very different.

SASHA ASLANIAN: It was different. And the national press and the international governing body of the United Methodist Church took notice. A year after the wedding, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church passed a resolution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and prohibiting United Methodist clergy from conducting same-sex marriages or using church property to do so. It's a rule that still stands much to Roger Lynn's dismay.

ROGER LYNN: I'm not going to say publicly that I'm going to do a gay marriage. There could be a trial, and I could lose my pension, which I'd rather not do. But I would risk that. But there's no sense thumbing my nose.

SASHA ASLANIAN: The director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Christa Meland, says the policy on marriage is set globally, and Methodists at the state level don't have the authority to permit clergy to perform same-sex marriages.

CHRISTA MELAND: The United Methodist Church, like the nation as a whole, is divided over same-sex marriage. There are a wide range of views within the Minnesota conference, and we recognize that people of good faith will disagree about the church's position on certain matters.

SASHA ASLANIAN: In 2012, Minnesota's Methodist leaders voted by a more than 2 to 1 margin to oppose a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage, saying it would conflict with the Methodist stance that all people are, quote, "entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured," end quote. But as for performing those marriages, that's up to the international body, which meets next in 2016.

One of the people who will be there lobbying for full inclusion of same-sex couples is Walter Lockhart. He's pastor at Walker Community United Methodist Church in south Minneapolis, a church Roger Lynn once led.

WALTER LOCKHART: 21 years into my career, I am impatient at the pace of change and the pace that we are moving towards justice.

SASHA ASLANIAN: The pace is deliberative because when the General Conference makes a move, it applies to United Methodist churches across the world. A substantial number of Methodists in the South and in Africa strongly oppose same-sex marriage. Lockhart says locally, 50 United Methodist ministers and lay people met recently to discuss how they'll handle requests from gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry. Lockhart is considering religious disobedience.

WALTER LOCKHART: For me, the most important piece is to be pastoral and to meet the needs of the couple. And if that crosses over the line of United Methodism, I am prepared to deal with United Methodism as I may or may not have to cross over the line.

SASHA ASLANIAN: Clergy from many religions will navigate those lines on August 1. Some faith communities, like ELCA Lutherans, allow individual congregations to make the decision. Other religions have policies set at the national or international level, so a change in Minnesota's marriage law has little effect. Sasha Aslanian, Minnesota Public Radio News, Minneapolis.

REPORTER: You can find a list on our website of what many other local faith groups in Minnesota will do come August 1 regarding same-sex marriages. You can go to to find out.

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