Monday, August 29, 2011

United Church of Christ's Iowa Conference Same-Sex Marriage FAQ

I was checking out the upgraded website for the United Church of Christ's Iowa Conference tonight.  I checked under the resources section and found that they have a "Same-Sex Marriage Info" section.  The Iowa Conference came up with its own FAQ to help guide UCC church leaders about gay weddings and the Iowa Supreme Court's (relatively) recent decision that struck down the state's DOMA law and allowed gay and lesbian couples the ability to legally marry.

I often get web visitors who have questions about whether or not pastors are forced to officiate at weddings for gay couples or who wonder if the UCC blesses all families, including gay families.  With that in mind, I thought some people might find it informative to check out the Iowa Conference's Same-Sex Marriage FAQ:
Are local churches required to host same-sex weddings?
No. Although the Iowa Supreme Court has made civil marriage legally accessible to same-sex couples, the court has affirmed that churches and other communities of faith have the religious freedom to determine whether same-sex marriage is acceptable within their own belief structure.

Are clergy required to officiate at same-sex weddings?
No. Clergy too have the religious freedom to determine whether or not same-sex weddings fit within their belief structure.

Where can I find more information about the Supreme Court ruling and the legal application of it?
The Iowa Supreme Court’s website has a page dedicated to the ruling:
The Iowa Attorney General also has information about the application of the ruling:

Our church has policy about which weddings we’ll host. If we’re open to same sex weddings, how should we apply those policies?
Those policies should be applied equally for both opposite-sex and same-sex weddings.

How can we help out-of-town couples get the advance preparation/counseling we require of those married in our church?
Contact the church community from which the couple comes or a local pastoral counseling center and get information about their marriage preparation practices. Refer the couple to one of those places and then ask that the clergy person or counselor tell you that the couple has completed the required number of pre-marital counseling sessions. You can also complete the pre-marital counseling sessions over the phone.

Our church (or our pastor) has chosen not to participate in same sex weddings, but if we’re contacted by a same-sex couple, we would like to refer them to a church or pastor who will work with them. How can we know where to send them?
The Iowa Conference office has compiled a list of churches and pastors that are willing to perform same-sex weddings that is available upon request. Or simply talk to the other clergy people and churches in your area to see if they are willing to perform same-sex weddings.

What should I do if I would like to broach the subject of same-sex weddings with my pastor/church?
Consult with Iowa Conference staff to process potential strategies for the conversation.

We’re willing to host same-sex weddings, but we don’t want to become a wedding chapel (or a wedding chaplain, in the case of a pastor). How can we set helpful limits on our participation?
If you haven’t done so already, a church should create a policy regarding the use of your space for weddings. If you already have one, simply enforce the same policy. Pastors should consult with their congregation to determine how much of his/her time should be spent doing weddings and if additional compensation for those weddings should be expected as part of the fees charged for weddings and marriage preparation at the church.

How can our church, or how can I, as a clergyperson, communicate our willingness to participate in same-sex weddings?
Ask to be included in the Iowa Conference’s list of churches and clergy willing to perform same-sex weddings. Or use media your church typically uses to advertise.

The local media has begun to call for the church’s/pastor’s comment about their thoughts about equal marriage and/or our decision about hosting same-sex weddings. What should we do?
First, the church and/or clergy person should determine whether or not they want to make comment to the media. If you choose not to talk to the media, simply decline the interview. If you choose to speak to the media, the church should identify the people (the pastor, church moderator, etc.) who will serve as media contacts and develop a list of talking points that articulates their position on the issue.

What should we do if we have begun to receive threats because of our beliefs regarding equal marriage?
Never ignore the threats. Immediately contact your local police or county sheriff’s department to report the threats and come up with strategies to handle the potential for harm. Also contact the Iowa Conference for continued support.

What should we do if we have scheduled our first same-sex wedding and we have reason to believe that certain people may come to the wedding to threaten or inflict harm on the participants?
Conduct a meeting with the couple being married, church leadership and local police to determine what safety precautions need to be taken the day of the event. The church may also want to consider creating a crisis plan and procedure for all church events. Local police and the Iowa Conference can help you create that plan.

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