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Local churches offer yeas, nays on marriage debate

by MATTHEW NASH
Sequim Gazette

While Washington state law prohibits businesses, including florists, photographers, cake bakers and caterers, from discriminating based on a customer’s sexual orientation, religious organizations are exempt from such rules in the case of same-sex marriage.

 

Religious officials cannot be sued for discrimination for refusing to perform a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple and religious organizations cannot be held liable for failing to open their marriage counseling programs or facilities to same-sex couples, according to state law. Religious organizations are not required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or recognize the unions.

 

When the Gazette asked local clergy whether their churches and fellowship groups would host and/or conduct a gay marriage ceremony, leaders were split or waiting on word from their denominational leaders.

 

Two churches, the Sequim Center for Spiritual Living and the Olympic Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, confirmed they would allow and conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony.

 

The Rev. Lynn Osborne, minister for the Center for Spiritual Living, said they have gay ministers in their administration and the topic is a non-issue.

 

“It’s never been something we made a decision on because we’ve always been inclusive of all people,” she said.

 

The Unitarian Universalist church has supported the gay community since 1970.

 

“Unitarian Universalists have been at the forefront of the same-sex marriage debates, advocating for the right for each person to marry the partner of his or her choice,” wrote George Stratton, board president of the church, via e-mail.

 

The church’s website, www.olympicuuf.org, under the “Welcoming Congregation” tab, explains more on this stance.

 

The Rev. Bill Green, pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church, said he appreciates the continued push for equal rights for all people but his church would not marry a gay couple nor would he at this time. The Methodist church’s General Assembly meets in two months, he said, where there might be a strong push to change this.

 

The Rev. Bob Rhoads, minister at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, said the archdiocese will make a decision this summer and that he hasn’t received direction from his bishop either on whether he can conduct a ceremony or not.

 

The Rev. Jack Anderson, pastor for Dungeness Valley Lutheran Church, said his bishop stated that the church’s constitution defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman, too.

 

“He would frown upon pastors performing same-sex marriages,” Anderson said. “We haven’t talked about it as a congregation. That conversation needs to happen.”

 

Several local churches remain opposed to both hosting and conducting a ceremony. Several clergy members chose not to comment or could not be reached.

 

The Rev. Randy Hurlbut, pastor for Sequim Valley Foursquare, said his church’s doctrine and bylaws state marriage is between a man and woman, and not people of the same sex.

 

“We’re not against the rights of individuals making their own choices but against them imposing their choices on others,” he said.

 

The Rev. Dave Wiitala, pastor at Sequim Bible Church, said he firmly believes marriage is between a man and a woman, too.

 

“I will support the referendum to change the law as passed by our Legislature,” Wiitala said. “I was very proud of Sen. Jim Hargrove voting against it.”

 

The Rev. Mike VanProyen, pastor of King’s Way Foursquare Church, said, “We are not permitted as Foursquare pastors to marry anyone but a man and a woman according to our bylaws, the Bible.”

 

Faith Baptist Church also would not participate in same-sex marriages, Pastor Lonnie Jacobson said.
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