Austin church won’t hold weddings until it can marry same-sex couples

12:00 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 Local
Tamir Kalifa
First United Methodist Church of Austin, which hosted this gathering of faith leaders earlier this year, has announced it will not hold weddings in its sanctuary or chapel until the denomination’s leadership lifts its ban on marrying same-sex couples.

A downtown Austin church is making much ado about “I do” as a statement in support of marriage equality.

First United Methodist Church announced Friday that it will stop holding weddings until it can perform them for gay and straight couples alike.

Members of the church’s congregation on Sept. 24 voted 93 percent in favor of a resolution ending wedding ceremonies in its sanctuary and chapel until the denomination’s leadership lifts its ban on marrying same-sex couples, the church said in a statement. The denomination’s national body, the United Methodist Church, does not allow same-sex couples to be married on church property nor does it allow clergy to perform same-sex weddings.

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The Rev. Taylor Fuerst said the decision came after the governing body of the United Methodist Church held its 2016 quadrennial meeting and did not change its policies. The Austin church had joined the LGBT-friendly Reconciling Ministries Network in 2013, but that didn’t make last week’s resolution a no-brainer, she said.

“I had plenty of conversations with people who were struggling with this conversation, everyone from folks who are still in disagreement with our church’s stance on full inclusion to folks who agree with that but were uncomfortable changing our practice,” Fuerst said. “It’s one thing to say, ‘This is what we believe,’ but it’s another to — if you’re a straight person — give something up.”

The church, at 1201 Lavaca St., will still host weddings already scheduled but won’t book any more, it said. And clergy won’t officially perform weddings off-site either, though they’re free to take part in ceremonies for both gay and straight couples or to provide blessings or counseling.

Davis Covin and his now-husband Trevor Harper joined First United together four years ago. There, they found an authentic, loving community, Covin said. But when the couple decided to marry, they couldn’t do it in their church.

“It’s hurtful, because you know the congregation and all the members support you and would like to see you get married in the church, but it’s the politics of the denomination that it’s not allowed,” Covin said. “It’s the hearts and minds of people I love versus a policy on file.”

Instead, the two married last October in the historic Byrne-Reed House, 1410 Rio Grande St., with the pastors present, but not involved in the ceremony, Covin said. He knows of at least two other congregation couples who have faced the same thing.

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The Rio Texas Annual Conference, the United Methodist Church’s regional body, issued a statement in response to First United’s resolution, taking no position on it but calling it perfectly in keeping with church rules.

“Human sexuality has been a topic of debate among United Methodists for some time,” the regional body said. “The Commission on a Way Forward was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the 2016 General Conference to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.”

The governing body of the United Methodist Church is scheduled to receive a report from that commission and discuss how to reconcile differing views on marriage during a special meeting in 2019.

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