Why There’s No “Third Way” on Gay Marriage

Rachel & Ratchet and Courtney & Tony are legally married on 11/11/13. Photo by Caroline Yang

Every week now, there’s news about gay marriage. Today it’s that Oregon is allowing same sex marriages. Last week it was the Religious Broadcasters Association forcing Multnomah Publishers to resign from the trade group.

It strikes close to home for many of us as well. I regularly hear from readers who wither A) are gay and can’t get married in their state, or B) have recently gotten married and are overjoyed. In my own personal case, last month I lost out on a potential six-figure grant from a church foundation exclusively because of my affirmation of marriage equality — someone connected to the foundation didn’t like my stance.

I’ve got a few friends to graciously and tenaciously hang on to the idea that a third way can be found on this issue, a middle ground between affirming gay marriage and condemning it. And I agree with them, to a point. I know many churches that are studying the issue — the church council is reading books and discussing it; the pastor is offering Wednesday night classes, etc. Those are practices of a middle ground, but that middle ground is necessarily temporary.

That’s because the same-sex marriage debate in the church is always determined by practices. Let’s take World Vision, for example. For three years, the WV board of directors studied and prayed about the issue, and no one complained. But as soon as they decided to institute a new practice — that is, hiring legally married gay persons in their U.S. offices — conservative Christians went postal. Spokesmen tweeted, pastors called, and recording artists threatened. In less than 48 hours, WV reversed their decision.

The same goes in church. A denomination can study the issue for years as the PC(USA) has. But at some point, they will take a vote. Then they either will or will not allow their clergy to perform same-sex weddings. It’s at that point that congregations will leave for the conservative ECO denomination (some already have). The UCC, ELCA, and EC(USA) held their votes in the past, the UMC will confront it in the future.

And the same goes for an individual congregation. At some point, every congregation in America will decide either, YES, same-sex marriages will take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy; or NO, same-sex marriages will not take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy. There is no third way on that. A church either allows same-sex marriages, or it doesn’t. 

I’ve heard of cases where a pastor is allowed to perform same-sex weddings, but not on church property. That’s a kind of third way, but it usually takes place without the knowledge of the majority of the congregation. And it is also a temporary (and possibly deceitful) practice.

What I’m saying is that a church or an organization can study the issue in theory, and they can even do so for years. But this isn’t really a “third way” or a “middle ground.” Instead, it is a process. And at some point, that process has to end and practices have to be implemented. At that point, there’s no third way. You either affirm marriage equality in your practices, or you do not.


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