- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Same-sex couples rushed to courthouses this week after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand gay-marriage laws in five states, but some mainstream churches are taking cautious steps to address the potential impact on their congregations.

The high court’s decision allowed gay marriage in Virginia, Utah, Wisconsin, Indiana and Oklahoma, with as many as six other states set to start same-sex unions by the end of the year.

The Right Rev. Scott B. Hayashi, bishop of Utah for the Episcopal Church, said the church has not made an official decision on same-sex marriage; however, he anticipated legislation would be proposed at next year’s General Convention.

“I think there’s certainly going to be resolutions traveling through this general convention,” Bishop Hayashi said. “It would not be correct to say [the church] has ruled at this point in time as far as [same-sex] marriage is concerned, but the Episcopal Church is very concerned with equality.”

The General Convention in 2012 approved a rite for blessing same-sex unions, a decision that has been a major contributor to the fracturing of Episcopal congregations. As of 2012, about 2.1 million people in the United States were baptized members of the Episcopal Church.

That decision meant that a bishop of a diocese in a state where gay marriage is legal has the option of giving a “generous pastoral response” for a same-sex couple, Bishop Hayashi said.

“It’s not a marriage, it’s a blessing,” he said. “In the United States of America there’s a funny line where religious bodies do a state function. That’s really odd when you consider the separation of church and state.”

While the Supreme Court’s decision came sooner than expected for the Southern Baptist Convention, leaders already had planned a conference later this month titled “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” that will be led by the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“The decision happened much quicker than I had anticipated,” said Russell Moore, president of the ethics commission. “We’re going to talk at the conference and in every other venue about what this means.”

Though the Southern Baptist Convention, which has about 16 million members, teaches support for gay people, it does not condone same-sex marriage.

“We understand that we’re living in a culture where the word ‘marriage’ cannot be assumed,” Mr. Moore said. “We have to articulate what we mean by marriage, and why we think that’s important to equip people in our congregations. That’s why we’re hosting the conference on these issues of how do we live out the Christian ethic in a very different marriage culture.”

According to the United Methodist Church’s Book of Doctrine and Rules, homosexual acts are “incompatible with Christian teaching”; however, two cases involving same-sex marriages have hinted at a growing acceptance within the church, which has about 7.4 million members in the United States, and 12 million members worldwide.

In June, a pastor who had been defrocked for officiating his gay son’s wedding was reinstated. Last week, a lawsuit against 36 Methodist pastors who had officiated a same-sex union was settled out of court, with a promise of future dialogue between both sides.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. this summer voted this summer to allow its pastors to perform same-sex marriages in states where they are legal. The church also approved insurance benefits for same-sex spouses of church employees. More than 1.7 million people are members of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

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