United Church of Christ Votes on Gay Marriage

The United Church of Christ votes Monday on whether to endorse same-sex marriage. If the series of resolutions passes, the church, which has 1.4 million members, will become the largest denomination to officially sanction gay marriage.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Today in Atlanta, the United Church of Christ votes on whether to endorse same-sex marriage. If it does, this church with 1.4 million members would become the largest to officially sanction gay weddings across the country. NPR's Jason DeRose reports.

JASON DeROSE reporting:

Last fall, the United Church of Christ or UCC began an advertising campaign called God is Still Speaking.

(Soundbite from television commercial)

Unidentified Man: The United Church of Christ. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here.

DeROSE: The television commercials portray a gay couple, people with disabilities and others being turned away at a church door and then welcomed at a UCC congregation. The denomination was one of the first mainline churches to ordain an openly gay man back in the 1970s. That history and the advertising campaign may have led many to believe the church already officially sanctioned marriage equality for people in same-sex relationships, but Reverend John Deckenback says, given recent political rhetoric and legal rulings, something more was needed.

Reverend JOHN DECKENBACK: We think it's important that we be formal in saying what we believe and not just have it as an advertising slogan so that what we formally believe and what we say about ourselves match.

DeROSE: So Deckenback and others from the church's mid-Atlantic conference proposed a year and a half ago a resolution asking for the UCC to study the possibility of marriage rights for same-sex couples, but then came along another resolution.

Reverend LIBBY TIGNER: What we're asking the church to do is to affirm equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender.

DeROSE: Reverend Libby Tigner and a group of churches from Southern California and Nevada proposed not further study but the full granting of marriage rights within the church. That resolution also calls on the church's public policy arm to work for marriage equality in state and national legislatures.

Rev. TIGNER: I would much rather be a part of a church that is prophetic even when it means losing members or even when it means being unpopular or making difficult decisions over and against keeping the traditions of the church and folks happy.

DeROSE: The Southern California resolution for full marriage equality was then met by a third proposal; this one, in the opposite direction. It comes from a group of congregations led by Reverend Brett Becker of Cibolo, Texas.

Reverend BRETT BECKER: It's simply stating what we believe the Scriptures teach, that marriage is between one man and one woman as it says in Genesis 2:24 and Jesus quotes in Matthew 19:5.

DeROSE: Becker, a lifelong member of the UCC, says he's distraught his church is moving away from what he sees as biblical teaching. Given the trajectory of his denomination, he says his resolution has no chance of passing, but he says he'll continue to bring his church back to the Bible. What's unclear is whether the proposal for marriage equality or the proposal for further study will pass today. National church spokesperson Reverend Robert Chase says regardless of the outcome, it's good for people of faith to debate what God wants for the church.

Reverend ROBERT CHASE: Life is ambiguous and to assume that we have it all figured out simply means that we have a lot to learn.

DeROSE: Since today's vote at the national assembly is non-binding to local congregations, pastors are free to do as they please at their home churches, either marrying or not marrying same-sex couples.

Jason DeRose, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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