As of July 17, 2014, nineteen U.S. states have the freedom to marry for same-gender couples: CA, CT, DE, HI, IA, IL, ME, MD, MA, MN, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, WA, plus the District of Columbia. In an additional fourteen states, judges have issued rulings in favor of the freedom to marry, with many of these rulings now stayed as they proceed to appellate courts: In AR, CO, FL, ID, IN, KY, MI, OK, TX, UT, VA and WI judges have struck down marriage bans, and in OH and TN, judges have issued more limited pro-marriage rulings.
Three states offer broad protections short of marriage. CO allows civil union, while NV offers broad domestic partnership. WI has more limited domestic partnership.
With these advances, nearly 44% of the U.S. population lives in a state with the freedom to marry for same-gender couples, over 46% of the U.S. population lives in a state with either marriage or a broad legal status such as civil union or domestic partnership, and over 48% of the U.S. population lives in a state that provides some form of protections for gay couples. (Source) Same-gender couples throughout Canada have enjoyed marriage equality since 2005.
Demographically, the majority of RCA congregations are located in states or provinces where same-gender marriage is legal or protected, and the numbers are increasing rapidly. What does this mean for RCA pastors and parishioners?
RfA posted a resource for pastors and consistories in July, 2011 which still contains useful information. Since that time, several more classes have engaged in discussion and have formulated policies, some of which allow pastors to perform same-gender weddings without threat of classis discipline. Within congregations, pastors and Boards of Elders have prayerfully considered their response.
On a denominational level, the 2014 General Synod passed a recommendation instructing “the Commission on Church Order to incorporate a definition of marriage into the Book of Church Order as between one man and one woman, and to report back to General Synod 2015.” If the 2015 Synod should recommend such a change to the BCO, two-thirds of the classes would need to approve it before it would take effect. The intent of such an action would be to make the Order for Christian Marriage, which uses male/female language, constitutional (as opposed to approved and commended). Other constitutional liturgies in the RCA include the celebration of the Sacraments (Lord’s Supper and Baptism), profession of faith, ordination of elders, deacons, and minsters of Word and Sacrament. (Worship the Lord: The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America. c. 2005 Reformed Church Press, p. 245. Also see here.)
For some pastors, a request to perform a same-gender wedding has been an invitation to reconsider the larger questions of sexual orientation, the meaning of marriage, Scripture, and God’s purposes for humanity, as well as their own sense of call as confirmed by their vows of ordination. The decision is a “no-brainer” for some, but for others it involves significant and faithful wrestling. In all cases, we encourage pastors to pray, consult their families and colleagues, their Board of Elders and, where appropriate, their classis officers. RfA also stands ready to listen and help pastors sort out their response.