Same-sex marriage in Minnesota: A cross-section of faith communities' approaches

Mark Dayton, Scott Dibble, Karen Clark
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signs the same-sex marriage bill into law in front of the State Capitol Tuesday, May 14, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

Same-sex couples can legally wed in Minnesota on Aug. 1. Marriage in the eyes of the state's many faith communities, however, is a different matter.

Reactions from Minnesota religious organizations -- and sometimes from within those organizations -- vary widely.

Some congregations, such as University Baptist Church in Minneapolis "will joyfully celebrate all marriages that are legal," the Rev. Doug Donley said in an interview.

Others, including Kenesseth Israel, the oldest Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the Twin Cities, won't recognize such a union. "Calling a same-sex partnership a 'marriage' doesn't make it a marriage," said Rabbi Chaim Goldberger.

MPR News surveyed a cross-section of faith leaders to see where some of the most common religious groups in Minnesota stand on the issue.


Metropolitan Community Churches, a pioneer of gay and lesbian marriage equality in the United States. The MCC of Los Angeles became the first church to officiate a same-sex wedding two months after its founding in 1968. MCC advocates for marriage equality throughout the world.

Reform Judaism: The Union for Reform Judaism has supported same-sex marriage since 1997, when members pledged to promote same-gender marriage legislation and encourage its congregations to honor "monogamous domestic relationships" of gays and lesbians.

Rabbi Michael Latz of Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis said his congregation has performed same-sex marriages for 25 years. "I have a boatload of weddings in August and September," Latz said. "For a while, we weren't signing any marriage certificates. Now that it's the law of the land, we are signing all certificates."

Unitarian Universalist: Since 1973, the Unitarians have embraced the gay and lesbian community.

"We'll absolutely be officiating weddings on Aug. 1," said Ralph Wyman, director and organizer of the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance.


American Baptist Churches USA: The American Baptist Churches USA board in 1992 wrote, "We affirm that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." In 2005, the organization asserted, "God's design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching."

Still, individual congregations may do what they choose, said Rev. Doug Donley of the University Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

"We were very, very active in pushing for this law, ending discrimination against the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community," he said, adding that next month he will be officiating the wedding of a same-sex couple who have been together for 33 years.

The Episcopal Church: A 2012 resolution allows, but does not require, faith communities and individuals to bless same-sex unions in their churches.

Same-sex couples who wish to marry must adhere to the same church requirements as heterosexual couples, such as "competent preparation for a covenant relationship," the Rev. Brian N. Prior, IX Bishop of Minnesota wrote in a letter to clergy.

"Any actions, whether sacred or secular, that prevent our LGBT brothers and sisters from exercising the rights and privileges that the rest of Minnesotans enjoy -- are considered to be marginalizing and contrary to the Gospel, the Baptismal Covenant and our history," Prior said in a statement.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Members of the ELCA disagree with one another about same-sex marriage, according to a letter from Bishop Ann M. Svennungsen of the Minneapolis Area Synod. The ELCA assembly does not endorse blessing same-sex unions. But it does permit congregations who choose to do so to "recognize and support lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships and hold them publicly accountable."

Quakers: "We've been marrying same-sex couples since 1986," wrote Anne Supplee, clerk of the Twin Cities Friends Meeting which meets in St. Paul. Each Quaker meeting makes its own decisions, though Supplee says most in this regional conference support same-sex couples who wish to marry. "It is Quakers' understanding that a marriage is between the couple and God/Spirit and that the people present are just witnesses to the union. So the couple marries each other and the meeting...takes the marriage under our care...Everyone present at the wedding signs a big certificate that the couple then keeps in their home as a reminder that the meeting has their relationship under our care."

United Church of Christ: UCC leaders formally supported same-sex marriage in a 2005 resolution. But, "we speak to our local churches, not necessarily for them," said the Rev. Howard Bell, acting conference minister of the Minnesota Conference of the UCC. "Each church will decide on its own how it will respond to marriage equality."

Yet, Bell said that UCC pastors and congregations state and nationwide have advocated for same-sex marriage rights. "A great deal of justice has been served as a result of (Minnesota's) law," Bell said.


Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Church officials released a statement last month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and effectively upheld lower-court rulings that California's Proposition 8 was unconstitutional: "The Church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children. Notably, the court decision does not change the definition of marriage in nearly three-fourths of the states."

An LDS church official in Salt Lake City said the church would not comment on individual state laws, nor would spokespeople be commenting on the issue.

Evangelical Christians: This group officially represents 160 churches from more than nine denominations. "Our position is that God defines marriage in the Bible as between a man and a woman. Evangelicals will not be conducting same sex weddings after August 1," wrote Carl Nelson with the evangelical network Transform Minnesota.

The group, he added, does not set policy for our member churches.

"We wouldn't restrict whether a clergy member performed a same sex union but we have been clear about what our beliefs are and what we are going to promote," he said.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod: The LCMS position is that the Old and New Testaments prohibit homosexual behavior. In a 2004 resolution, the church calls it "contrary to the Creator's design" and "intrinsically sinful." That document also called on church members "to give a public witness from Scripture against the social acceptance and legal recognition of homosexual 'marriage."

"LCMS pastors will not officiate at marriages of same-sex couples, a prerogative that is theirs under the Minnesota statute on the basis of their religious faith and confession, and, more importantly, a conscience stand that is theirs on the basis of God's Word," Rev. Dr. Dean W. Nadasdy, president of the LCMS Minnesota South District, and the Rev. Donald J. Fondow, president of the LCMS Minnesota North District said in a statement.

Orthodox Judaism: Most Orthodox Jews agree that their sacred texts forbid homosexual relationships and define marriage as between a man and a woman only. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America condemned last month's Supreme Court decisions in a statement while simultaneously condemning "discrimination against individuals."

Goldberger, who heads a synagogue established in 1888, said: "We will feel sad for our state that it has turned away from common sense and embraced a legal position far out of touch with reality, to accommodate a small minority for whom the beautiful functionality of this perfect, God-given world is just not good enough."

Presbyterian Church (USA): "Currently the Presbyterian Church (USA) officially recognizes only marriages between one woman and one man," Rev. Chaz Ruark of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities wrote.

"Its clergy are not authorized to conduct marriages ceremonies between same sex couples. PC (USA) clergy wishing to convey pastoral care and ministry to persons in a relationship may conduct services blessing the union of a same sex couple. This is true even in states where same sex marriage is now legal ... The issue of same sex marriage is likely to be considered again at the next national meeting of the denomination that will take place in Detroit, Michigan in 2014."

Roman Catholic Church: State lawmakers' May vote to "redefine" marriage "disappointed" Roman Catholic leaders, according to a statements released by the Minnesota Catholic Conference that month. In a response to the Minnesota House vote approving the bill, the conference said, "This action is an injustice that tears at the fabric of society and will be remembered as such well into the future." A few days later, the conference said that the church "will continue to work to rebuild a healthy culture of marriage and family life," in a statement released after the state Senate passed the bill.

United Methodist Church: UMC's Book of Discipline states that the church "does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." Sexually active homosexuals may not be ordained and clergy are prohibited from officiating same-sex weddings. Yet some dissent exists, concedes Bruce R. Ough, resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area. The denomination is "divided over the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church and the specific issue of same-sex marriage," he said in a statement. "I recognize that good people of faith will disagree about the church's position on matters of faith, theology, ecclesiology, culture, and structure."

Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod: WELS is unequivocal. In its statement on homosexuality, the synod "must warn the impenitent that homosexuality, like all sins, excludes people from eternal life (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). The church, therefore, must not, bless same-sex marriages or unions, since these are contrary to the will of God."

WELS President, the Rev. Mark Schroeder, has expressed disappointment over Minnesota's same-sex marriage law. "To view same-sex relationships as acceptable to God is to place cultural viewpoint and human opinions above the clear Word of God," he said, while emphasizing that WELS congregations must reach out to homosexuals.


MPR News also contacted the Islamic Center of Minnesota and the Hindu Temple of Minnesota, but didn't receive responses.

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