ORRINGTON, Maine — Nearly 100 ministers and lay leaders representing churches from Fort Fairfield to Richmond met Tuesday afternoon at Calvary Chapel to launch a biblically based opposition to same-sex marriages or civil unions in Maine.
“We’ve been brought together by circumstance and the circumstances aren’t so good,” the Rev. Ken Graves, pastor of the church in the former Orrington School, told the group. “Political activism is not my thing, but I don’t shrink from speaking biblical truth.”
One of those truths, according to Graves, is that marriage is between a man and a woman.
In New England, same-sex couples can marry in Massachusetts and Connecticut. They may obtain a civil union in New Hampshire and Vermont. Rhode Island’s Legislature is considering a marriage bill this session, according to Equality Maine.
Although bills do not have to be submitted to the Legislature until mid-January, Equality Maine announced last month that a majority of newly elected lawmakers favor extending to same-sex couples the same legal rights and benefits that come when heterosexuals marry. The group won’t decide until after the first of the year whether to submit a bill this session that would allow for same-sex marriages, Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, said Tuesday.
“Marriage is God’s idea,” Graves said. “It is his institution. It belongs to him.”
The pastor warned the group that met at his church that marriage was being “hijacked” by gay and lesbian activists and liberal pastors. He urged his fellow ministers to stop Maine from allowing gay marriages or civil unions and introduced the group to the Rev. Bob Emrich, pastor of Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church in Plymouth.
A former legislative staffer, Emrich announced the formation of the Maine Marriage Alliance. He described it as a coalition of pastors and laypeople who support traditional marriage. It was founded, in part, as a reaction to the organization of a similar group by clergy that support same-sex marriage.
Last month, ministers in liberal and mainline denominations announced their support of same-sex marriage in four simultaneous press conferences around the state. It was announced at those events that 120 religious leaders from 14 different faith traditions had formed the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Maine.
A few days later, Bishop Richard Malone, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, announced that the church would oppose efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine. In a letter to his flock, read from the pulpits in many parishes, the bishop reminded Catholics that the principal reason for marriage was procreation, which is possible only between a man and a woman.
Maine law defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The state does not have a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman as some states do. One of the goals of the Maine Marriage Alliance is to amend the state constitution to include that definition of marriage.
“I am in a totally different camp and I believe marriage should be a matter of equality and open to all,” the Rev. Mark Doty, pastor of Hammond Street Congregational Church in Bangor, said Tuesday when told of the formation of the Maine Marriage Alliance.
Doty spoke in support of gay marriage at the press conferences held last month.
“I personally believe in a God that wants the best for all creation and wants all human beings to be fulfilled,” he said Tuesday. “I believe in a God who allows for everyone to have a meaningful life and be part of a partnered relationship. The loving God that I worship would never prohibit people who love one another from being together [in] committed covenantal relationships.”
On Tuesday, Emrich urged pastors to preach and pray about the “threat” to traditional marriage. He also asked them to contact their legislators and to ask members of their congregations to do the same.
“It is so important for us to recognize this is not a challenge to a social institution,” he said. “It’s a challenge to the righteousness of God. … This is not one of the things we may have to face, we are facing it.”
Emrich warned the ministers that by calling homosexuality a sin or an abomination they most likely would be accused of being hateful.
“We must remember that when Christ addressed sin, he addressed it gracefully,” the Rev. George Finnemore, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Newport, told the group. “We can stand against sin but show the same grace that God shows us.”
The Rev. Buddy Gough, pastor of the Newport Church of God, urged the group to reach out to the Catholic and Mormon churches in Maine. Both contributed heavily to the recent successful campaign to repeal same-sex marriage in California.
Emrich said that it was too soon to begin talking about strategies the Maine Marriage Alliance might implement to repeal a same-sex marriage bill. The minister told the group that he had been in touch with ministers involved in the successful repeal in California and they had expressed support for the group’s efforts in Maine.
For information about the Maine Marriage Alliance, visit www.mainemarriage.net.