Members of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church, located in Louisville, KY, unanimously voted to stop signing marriage licenses for heterosexual couples until same-sex couples are afforded equal marriage rights. The decision comes at the same time that a CNN poll shows that a majority of Americans now support legalizing same-sex marriages, the fourth poll to show similar results in the past eight months.
In 2008, Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (DBCC) decided to designate itself an Open and Affirming Community of Faith, signifying its “commitment to full acceptance of all people, regardless of race, gender, age, or sexual orientation,” and this decision keeps it in line with those values, church leaders said. The church will continue to perform religious wedding ceremonies but will no longer sign official licenses, according to an official release on its web site:
“[O]ur membership is committed to treating homosexuals and heterosexuals equally. Our congregation believes it is unfair to provide different services and benefits to heterosexual couples than we can provide to gay and lesbian couples,” said associate minister Rev. Ryan Kemp-Pappan.
In an interview with ThinkProgress, the church’s senior minister, Rev. Derek Penwell, said the decision came after more than a year of discussion among church leaders, who decided to pitch it to church members last Sunday. The church has a “small percentage” of openly gay members, he said, but a large number of its visitors come from the gay and lesbian community. And while DBCC has participated in community outreach programs with the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, the Louisville Fairness Campaign, and the Kentucky ACLU, Penwell said the decision is based in Biblical scripture:
“The church, over the course of time, has come to a fuller understanding on a variety of issues that even just a few years before would have seemed inconceivable. [Churches] made the same arguments about interracial marriage or about precluding women in church leadership, based on certain areas of scripture. The interpretation of those scriptures made sense at the time and in a certain context, but in a modern American context, don’t make the same sense. … It’s not like we’re going to the Bible and saying, ‘We don’t like it, we’re going to ignore it.’” [...]
“At some point, we’re going to look back on this and wonder why it was that big of a deal.“
According to Penwell, “about 95 percent” of the response to the decision has been positive, and church leaders hope that any discussion sparked by the decision will help open church doors to people who have previously been turned away by anti-equality rhetoric:
“It’s been fascinating to see the responses we’ve gotten via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. … I think there has been a great deal of bitterness and resentment about being gay and Christian for many people. They felt burned by what they thought of or viewed as hostility. And not just members of the gay and lesbian community, but the people who loved them. A lot of folks have passed by churches with bad thoughts in their mind…and I think the church has lost an enormous opportunity because of its past stance on this issue.“
In 2004, Kentucky voters overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the state’s constitution banning same-sex marriages, with organizing and advertising help from the state’s three largest religious organizations: the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, and Southeast Christian Church, the state’s largest congregation. The discriminatory referendum received 74 percent of the statewide vote.
President Obama and the Justice Department recently decided to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which legally defines marriage as between one man and one woman and prevents states from having to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. As ThinkProgress reported earlier this week, American taxpayers are paying a former U.S. solicitor general $520 an hour to defend the discriminatory law in federal court.