Disciples News Service

Disciples congregation votes to change its policy on marriage

After more than 18 months of prayer and conversation, Douglass Boulevard Christian Church in Louisville, Ky. has voted to end the practice of signing marriage licenses because the licenses give legal benefits to heterosexual couples that aren’t available to homosexual couples.

In 2008, the church voted to become an Open and Affirming Congregation, which means it welcomes persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.

But the church’s senior pastor and associate pastor had wondered how Douglass Boulevard could make an even more significant statement about its commitment to inclusion.

“We were trying to figure out how to live into the whole identity of being open and affirming,” said Senior Pastor Derek Penwell. “And we thought a statement that said we would no longer sign marriage licenses until all couples – both heterosexual and homosexual – were treated equally would be the approach to take.”

The pastors felt it would be more powerful if the elders and congregation also stood behind the statement.

On Palm Sunday, the congregations met for its scheduled congregational meeting and voted without dissent to, in the church’s words, support marriage equality, meaning Douglass Boulevard will perform marriage ceremonies, but will not sign marriage licenses.  Couples would need to go to a justice of the peace to have the licenses signed.

Since the April 17 vote, the church, which has 80-100 persons in worship each week, has received media attention from around the world.  Penwell says the church has received more than 300 e-mails, most of which are in support of the decision.  He has placed the e-mails in a binder so everyone at the church can view them. He also has been interviewed on MSNBC, by the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper, the Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco, Calif., the Associated Press, and ThinkProgress.org

“We didn’t know our decision would create such media coverage,” commented Penwell. “It seems we generated discussion about how clergy in congregations can be supportive in making statements about complex issues such as this one.”

In 2004, Kentucky voters passed an amendment to the state constitution, reinforcing state law by banning same sex unions and marriage. Penwell says marriage laws sanctioned by the state of Kentucky allow heterosexual, but not homosexual couples to benefit from marital rights that include filing taxes jointly and inheriting property.

The church’s new policy has not been tested yet by a couple seeking to be married.

“We took this position because we think we have a responsibility to pursue just and equitable arrangements for all people in our congregation, regardless of their race, gender and sexual orientation," said Penwell.

Disciples do not have a formal policy on same-sex marriage.  Different congregations have the autonomy to discern on issues such as this one, and come to their own unique decision.

To read a press release from Douglass Boulevard Christian Church on the decision, go to: http://douglassblvdcc.com/295/041911/

By Wanda Bryant Wills
wbwills@disciples.org