Municipal clerks around the state are scheduled to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples next month. Those who prefer to have a religious rather than civil ceremony will find a welcome mat outside many, but not all, churches in Maine.
The referendum, which passed Nov. 6 with the support of 53 percent of Maine voters, exempts clergy from having to perform ceremonies if gay marriage is against their religious beliefs.
Ministers whose denominations allow gay marriage expect to be busy in 2013.
The Rev. Mark Doty, pastor of Hammond Street Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Bangor, has three weddings on his schedule.
So far, just one couple has set a date, he said last week.
“Because I’m openly gay, I’ve looked forward to a time when people who are gay or lesbian could be married in our sanctuary,” Doty, who has been at the church since 2001, said last week. “I presume we will use the vows we would normally use and just change the pronouns.”
The minister said he expected to perform between eight and 10 weddings next year for same-sex couples.
“This congregation was very invested in the outcome of the election,” he said. “Lots of folks volunteered for the ‘Yes on One’ campaign so we are absolutely thrilled to be able to finally have weddings here.”
The Rev. Michael Gray, pastor of the Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church, was one of the most visible Maine clergy members in support of the referendum.
Gray, 40, spoke at press conferences, rallies and religious services. He celebrated with more than 1,000 people, some of whom do not share his belief in God, at a Portland hotel on election night.
The part-time minister and full-time banker has been asked to marry a lesbian couple this summer who attend his church. Gray is not sure if his denomination, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, will allow him to perform the ceremony in the church, even though his congregation joined a coalition supporting the referendum.
“I never once said — and I’m not now saying — that I’m going to marry same-sex couples in the church as a United Methodist pastor,” Gray said Saturday in a telephone interview. “What I said was that civil marriage should be legal in Maine for same-sex couples.”
The minister, as a notary public, a requirement for his banking job, is able to perform civil marriages but he would rather be able to provide a religious ceremony for couples who want one.
Gray and 200 other United Methodist ministers in New England are out of step with their denomination. They formed a chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action based in Washington, D.C., and signed a statement supporting gay marriage.
“We joyfully affirm that we will offer the grace of the church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage,” the statement reads. “We are convinced by the witness of others and are compelled by spirit and conscience to act.”
Gray said New England and the Northwest are more progressive on the issue of same-sex marriage than are United Methodists in the rest of the country.
“Eventually that will change,” he said.
The minister said he did not expect the gay marriage issue to split his denomination as it appears to have the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part. Earlier this month, the Diocese of South Carolina voted to leave the Episcopal Church after the larger body’s national convention approved vows for same-sex couples this summer.
Christian churches are not the only sects ready to marry same-sex couples.
“Inclusion and respect for homosexual rights is the most important civil rights issue of this generation,” Rabbi Justin Goldstein of Beth Israel synagogue in Bangor said recently. “The Torah instructs us to treat all human beings with dignity and respect. Freedom awarded to some must be awarded to all.”
Denominations that allow the blessing of same-sex unions include the Unitarian Universalist Association Congregations, the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church. The Reform and Conservative Jewish Movements also allow same-sex marriages to be conducted in their synagogues.
Other denominations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, allow regional synods to make the decision. American Baptists, the Presbyterian USA Church and the United Methodist Church continue to wrestle with the issue. Each denomination has clergy and lay members working to change the definition of marriage from a man and a woman to two people.
The Roman Catholic Church, the South Baptist Convention along with Orthodox Jews, Pentecostal denominations and independent Evangelical churches oppose same-sex marriage.