The Supreme Court’s ruling Friday making same sex marriage legal in all 50 states was greeted with mostly negative reactions from clergy members in Highland County, with one stark exception.
And the mayor of Hillsboro and his opponent in the November election expressed different opinions on the subject. Mayors typically perform many marriages during their terms in office.
For many who The Times-Gazette was able to contact Friday, the ruling raises questions about whether refusing to perform a same sex marriage ceremony will be seen as an act of discrimination subject to legal penalties.
Dr. Dan Lamb, pastor of Hillsboro Bible Baptist church, called the court’s ruling an affront to “God’s divine instructive.”
“I’m disappointed in the Supreme Court trying to change the fundamental foundation of what our forefathers put into place,” said Lamb. He said it was wrong for the court to interfere in what the states decide.
“I will not perform same-sex marriages,” said Lamb. “I will respect them, but not marry them. We’re not going to do that.”
He said the court’s ruling was “an insult to me as a man who chooses a wife.” He referred to a news item he had seen earlier this year about “a daughter who fell in love with her father and wanted to marry him,” and the court’s ruling represents a “first step” down a slippery slope.
Tom Stoops, evangelist at the Marshall Church of Christ, agreed with Lamb, saying, “I am appalled” at the court’s ruling. “Things are going further and further away from the Bible.”
He said the Bible says that “in the last days people will have unnatural affections. We’re going in the wrong direction.”
Stoops said that even if the law required him to do so, “I’m not going to marry two guys or two women.” He compared the direction of the country to the wicked biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and asked, “If God (destroyed) Sodom and Gomorrah, what’s he going to think about America?”
But Mark Edwards, pastor of the Open Door Community Church, said Friday that the court’s ruling was a welcome development. Edwards’ church has met since October at the old church building that was formerly the South Liberty Church of Christ on Danville Road, between Fairview and Danville.
“I’m excited about it,” said Edwards of the court’s ruling. “I’m gay and I have a partner, and I’m a pastor. God loves each and every one equally.”
Edwards, who said he pastored in Dayton for eight years prior to relocating to Hillsboro, said he disagrees with clergy members who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality.
“That’s Old Testament,” said Edwards. “We do not live in Leviticus days.” He said Christians who adhere to those teachings “should also not be eating red meat, etcetera.” He said that when Jesus died on the cross, “he set everybody free from the old laws.”
Edwards said after the court ruling was announced Friday, he posted his willingness to perform gay marriages on his Facebook page.
“We will marry same sex couples,” he said Friday. “We’re all God’s children, gay or straight.” He said same sex couples who want to be married should contact him.
Mayor Drew Hastings said he has probably performed 100 marriages so far since taking office in 2012. He said the court’s ruling on gay marriage was not a surprise.
If a same sex couple asked him to marry them, he would “probably not,” he said. He said he is not required to marry anyone and could “stop next week,” but “that would be to the detriment of people who want to get married.”
The mayor said, “It’s a thorny issue. I have longtime gay friends. But I’m not convinced gay marriage is something we should recognize.” But he said he favors “economic equality” for same sex couples.
Pam Limes, Hastings’ opponent in the November election, said Friday she was happy with the court’s ruling. She said gay couples “have a perfect right to get married.”
She said, “People need to marry who they love.” She called recognition of rights for the LGBT communities “long overdue.”
“It was a good day today,” she said, adding that as mayor she would not hesitate to marry same sex couples.
Father Mike Paraniuk, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Hillsboro and St. Benignus Catholic Church in Greenfield, said, “I had a feeling this would happen.” He said the ruling was a challenge to the Catholic Church to be “more pastoral and compassionate to those of that persuasion.”
But he said he would not perform a same sex marriage because it remains against the tenants of the Roman Catholic Church. He said the challenge is for the church to better explain “why marriage is between a man and a woman, to lead them to the truth of what marriage really is.”
He said some priests focus too much on condemnation instead of salvation, and said the biggest threat to marriage is divorce. He said the church needs to do a better job of reaching out to gays as Jesus reached out to all outcasts.
The Rev. Maurice Mitchell of the First Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro said he was “disappointed in the court.” He said his church’s General Assembly voted last year to permit Presbyterian ministers to perform same sex marriages in states where they were legal, but also permitted them to decline to do so based on their personal conscience and beliefs.
He said he assumes that stance still holds true even with gay marriage legal in all states, but as to whether refusal to perform a gay wedding ceremony would constitute a violation of the law, he said, “I don’t have an answer for that.” He said it was “frustrating” that the court’s decision was by a narrow 5-4 majority.
Jim Bush, lead minister at the Hillsboro Church of Christ, said the court’s decision should not change the fact that ministers have always enjoyed the right to decide whether to marry any couple.
“I’ve never been forced to marry anybody,” said Bush, noting he has declined to marry people for a variety of reasons based on interpretation of scripture.
But if worse comes to worse, he said the government could end up punishing churches by taking away their non-profit status, and punish individual ministers by stripping them of their license as a wedding officiant.
Judges also perform marriages, but neither Hillsboro Municipal Court Judge David McKenna nor Highland County Juvenile and Probate Judge Kevin Greer could be reached Friday evening.
Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss said Friday he is not permitted to conduct marriages because of a rule that decreed that judges who grant divorces should not also conduct weddings.
“Common pleas judges are the only judges who can’t marry people,” said Coss.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.