Wilton Presbyterian gives gay marriage the green light

Effectively ending a decades-long debate on the issue, the Presbyterian Church of the United States voted in June to recognize the right of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members to marry the person of their choice.

Now, says Wilton Presbyterian Church’s pastor, the Rev. Shannon White, she is free to perform same-sex marriages in the New Canaan Road church — an action that could have previously seen her lose her ordination.

“After the passage of the overture (an amendment to the Book of Order, the Presbyterian Church’s equivalent of a constitution) I could then, as a clergyperson, perform a same-gender marriage.”

Though the overture must now be approved by all 170 regional Presbyterian bodies in the United States, there is little doubt the amendment will become permanent.

In the meantime, Ms. White is allowed to perform same-sex marriages because her congregation is in support of them.

“I can perform a ceremony because I want to, and because I have the support of the session here,” she said.

A longtime supporter of same-sex marriages in the Presbyterian Church, Ms. White said she is “ready to affirm what we already knew.”

“The LGBT community has been patient beyond words with the slow, tiring pace of the Presbyterian Church, on this issue,” she said.

“This move affirms what we already knew, which was that love is from God, and I am so glad we can bless that here. It’s a wonderful move for our denomination to finally be able to bless those who love each other, regardless of who they are, and who they love.”

In Wilton, specifically, there have been openly gay members of the church for at least 15 years, Ms. White and Robert Bourguignon, the Wilton church’s clerk of session, said.

Before that, even, the two believe same-sex partners were welcome in the church.

However, not all Presbyterian churches in the area are in favor of the new rules, Ms. White said. In fact, the change in church doctrine saw 175 nay votes from across the U.S.

For instance, a church in Old Greenwich is in the process of leaving the Presbyterian Church of the United States as a result of the ruling.

Ms. White and Mr. Bourguignon both said many churches are expected to leave over the change in rules — as they did during the Civil War.

“The same thing happened during the Civill War,” Ms. White said. “Congregations left because they were supportive of slavery. When women were given the right to be ordained [in the 1950s] the same thing happened. If they are breaking off because of theological reasons [they are not going to come back.”

Nonetheless, Ms. White does not write off these congregations in a negative way.

“There are very faithful people on the other side of this discussion. We have well-intentioned people on both sides, but we see things very differently,” she said.

Getting focused

Mr. Bourguignon, a gay, married man himself, says this change will afford his fellow parishioners the chance to focus on the “business of clothing the naked and feeding the hungry.”

“I remember coming back from [regional] session meetings and telling our session that we spent most of our time looking into one another’s bedrooms. It seemed like we were totally obsessed with it. Hopefully we can go back to the business of doing good work,” he said.