Same-sex marriage is now legal in 14 states, and Illinois will likely join the party in June 2014. But while our government continues to make strides in marriage equality, religious denominations continue to lag behind.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Episcopalian Church approved same-sex marriage in 2009 and 2012, respectively. But the United State’s most widely spread Protestant denomination, the United Methodists, have been disputing marriage equality for decades.
Now, a former Nashville bishop who helped maintain anti-gay rules and beliefs within the church has come forward to say he’s changed his mind.
On October 26, Bishop Melvin Talbert traveled from Nashville to a town outside of Birmingham, Alabama, in order to officiate the wedding of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince. The couple had already been legally married in Washington D.C. on September 3.
In 1972, Talbert was involved in a Methodist conference that officially adopted the law that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. However, he says his views on homosexuality began to change years later after he attended a Methodist seminar. Attendees were comprised of both gay and straight Methodists, but none were allowed to reveal their sexuality until the seminar had ended. Talbert says the experience destroyed his stereotypes.
“I declared those laws that prohibited clergy from marrying gay and lesbian folk and using the church for that purpose are immoral, unjust, they are evil, and they no longer deserve our loyalty and support,” said Talbert. “It’s time for us to do the right thing.”
In addition to officiating same-sex ceremonies himself, Talbert urges other clergymen to do the same.
Deciding to accept same-sex marriage would not be the first time the church has changed its position on a social issue, nor is Talbert’s defiance to the Methodist Church’s anti-gay stance. In the nineteenth century, some Southern religious leaders helped to free slaves in the Underground Railroad, while many churches decided to integrate their congregations in the 1960s—all despite church orders.
“Religious people do these kinds of things,” he said. “We wouldn’t have all of the denominations…if it weren’t for the Protestant Reformation, in which a lot of people were told, ‘Well, you’re not a part of this church anymore.’”
Talbert believes his chances of discipline from the church are sligh. He has no problem speaking against church beliefs and being a voice for equality, because he knows he’s doing what is right.
“I have openly spoken out against my own church,” he said. “What they do, I can’t begin to say. Personally, I’m not losing any sleep over it.”