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Local News

Same-sex marriage in McHenry County: Some churches still wrestling with issue

McHENRY – A handful of same-sex couples on the verge of marriage have approached the Rev. Sean Parker Dennison in the past year.

Dennison, the pastor at Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Church in McHenry, is one of several pastors throughout McHenry County who have started officiating same-sex wedding since Illinois legalized it in June 2014.

But with many churches also refusing to perform the ceremonies, Dennison said some couples come to him because they know other churches won't recognize their relationship.

“When religion is used to hurt other people, that's really hard. That's really sad,” Dennison said. “It''s like something else has replaced that central message of love.”

As the U.S. Supreme Court grapples with sanctioning same-sex marriage nationwide, a similar battle is playing out in churches across the country. While some churches embrace same-sex marriage, other churches have held steady in their views toward gays and lesbians.

The Unitarian Universalist Association of Churches, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Conservative Jewish Movement, the Reform Jewish Movement, the Quakers and the United Church of Christ allow same-sex marriages, the Pew Research Center reported. The Evangelical Lutheran Church leaves the decision up to each congregation's minister.

Meanwhile, the American Baptist Church, Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Islam, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and Orthodox Jew Movement prohibit same-sex marriage.

Dennison said he's performed about five marriages between same-sex couples since June. How many have been performed in the county isn't clear because the McHenry County Clerk's office does not differentiate marriage licenses by the sexual orientation of the couple.

The Rev. Fran Holliday, rector for St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Crystal Lake, said she has not performed any same-sex marriages, though she'd be willing to do so. The Episcopal Church sanctions church leaders to bless same-sex marriages, but in Illinois and local dioceses, ministers have been able to perform same-sex marriages since Illinois law changed, she said.

Wednesday her church held a prayer vigil for the families who will be affected by the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling, which is expected to come down in June.

“It's really our belief that those relationships show forth the love of God and those families should be treated equally under the law and their marriages should be recognized,” Holliday said.

Although the Supreme Court ruling could bring change, the First United Methodist Church in Crystal Lake is holding steadfast to its ban on same-sex marriage, said the Rev. Scott Field. It's not a decision the church made, but one handed down from the national denomination.

Field said it could be a matter of time before individual congregations in Illinois get to decide whether to allow gay or lesbian couples to marry in their buildings. But at his Crystal Lake church, Field said his congregation is likely to keep with the denomination standards, which he said reflect the church's age-old beliefs.

“The rapid acceptance without much debate on this indicates the church is going with the tide of the culture and not with its roots," Field said.

It took more than 20 years of serious consideration before Presbyterian Church leaders reached their decision to allow same-sex marriage, said the Rev. John Dillon of Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church.

The Presbyterian Church USA voted in March to allow ceremonies. In June, he said, many factions of the denomination will shift the definition of marriage from a relationship between a man and a woman, to a relationship between two people.

“I respect my fellow believers who are still wrestling,” Dillon said. “But I think it's inevitable for the bigger denominations.”

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