“Will your church do a wedding for a lesbian couple?” asked the voice filled with tears.
The woman at the other end of the phone line was calling from a small town 100 miles away from my church in Kansas City, MO. I explained same-sex weddings occurred at our church way before the Obergefell decision and we were doing even more now. She exhaled and began to tell me her story.
She and her partner, who had been together for years, went to the courthouse in their rural county, and thankfully, they received a marriage license without any problems. (I was glad to hear that since many people in Missouri share Kim Davis’ beliefs.)
They expected a judge to do a brief civil ceremony, but all the judges were strangely “unavailable.” The list provided by the clerk’s office of area clergy who officiated weddings was no help. They called every minister on the list but none of them would perform a same-sex wedding.
Some of the clergy condemned them over the phone. They searched the internet looking for a church nearby that welcomed LGBTQ people but couldn’t find any who would even welcome them, much less marry them.
They continued to search further afield, and eventually they found a church 100 miles away—mine.
The caller and her partner grew up going to church, but when they reached adulthood and came out, no church in their rural community would have them. So they both gave up on church, and they had no expectation of having a religious wedding.
Long ago, they had given up on the idea that God would approve of their relationship.
Yet, as we talked about the ceremony, they expressed openness to it being religious. When the time came, the couple stood in my sanctuary and exchanged their vows one to another. I pronounced them not only married in the eyes of the state but also in the eyes of the church—not every church, but in the eyes of my church and all the ones like it who wish to bless the love of couples like this one.
I concluded the ceremony by saying, “You may not need to hear this, but I need to say it. Each of you was made by God as you are and is loved by God as you are. God loves and blesses your marriage. I’m sorry for the hurt the church has done to you by condemning your relationship. You need to know that my church and many others honor and celebrate your marriage.”
With tears in their eyes, the couple thanked me, and they shared their desire for a church like mine in their small town. I pray that someday there will be.
Marriage equality is here, but in many places it is not yet reality. In cities, people find churches that will offer God’s blessing to the commitments of same-sex couples, but in small towns, true religious community for all can be hard to find.
The work of making marriage equality a reality is not truly over.
Chase Peeples is pastor of Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ along with a bunch of other things including a father, a husband and a friend.