DARKE COUNTY — While the June 26 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), has given marriages between same-sex couples legal standing across the United States, the ruling has created lively and heated debate in communities from coast to coast.
Darke County is no exception.
The SCOTUS decision highlights deep political and religious divisions locally when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) relationships.
Speaking on behalf of the Darke County Democratic Party, County Engineer Jim Surber issued a statement saying, “The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that gays and lesbians have the constitutional right to marry. Perhaps this was because there is no constitutional prohibition of the practice. Did the founders simply not anticipate the question? Or, as they did with slavery, women suffrage and civil rights, choose to ignore it? This is left for us to ponder.”
“While the Constitution has served our nation well for 227 years, it will never be all things to all people. Major rulings and amendments have generally been the product of the ever-increasing diversity of its people. This ruling is certainly no exception,” he said.
Surber added, “We can only trust that justice has been served and that citizens have now gained a right that they were intended to have all along.”
Representative Jim Buchy, a Republican representing Ohio’s 84th District, takes an opposing view.
In a statement to the Daily Advocate, Buchy wrote, “In 2004, Ohioans declared their belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. On [June 26], the Supreme Court, by a single vote, struck down the voice of Ohio voters, instantly nullifying the will of the people in this state.”
“Regardless of one’s opinion on this issue,” he added, “I do not think it is right that five people in Washington decided an issue that I believe should be left to the states.”
Area clergy and churchgoers have undoubtedly expressed a great interest in the SCOTUS ruling, as clergy may find themselves at some point being called upon to minister to, and perform marriage ceremonies for, LGBT couples.
In response to how its denomination views LGBT marriage, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville forwarded a statement by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The statement reads, in part, “Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over 40 years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail.”
Some local churches may take a more liberal stance. A representative of Greenville’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, though the church is currently without a pastor, confirmed that in the past its clergy had performed at least one same-sex marriage ceremony.
Two local clergymen — a Methodist pastor and a non-denominational minister — agreed to share their views on the subject with the Daily Advocate.
Pastor Tim Pieper of Faith United Methodist Church in Arcanum clarified that he was not speaking on behalf of his denomination or even his own church, but only for himself.
Pieper pointed to a passage in the Methodist’s Book of Discipline, which states “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.”
“Every life has sacred value,” said Pieper. “God loves everyone. But our morality code is the Bible. No world government, no culture, sets Christian morality. The practice of homosexuality or the homosexual lifestyle is not consistent with Christian teachings.”
“The homosexual issue has been debated [in the Methodist Church] since the 1970s,” he said. “You don’t have 100 percent consensus on the issue within the denomination. I know others of good conscience who see it otherwise. On that issue we have agreed to disagree.”
When asked how he would respond to a gay couple seeking to have him perform a marriage ceremony, Pieper was unequivocal.
“I would respectfully decline,” he said. “I would tell them I love them, but as marriage is a sacrament, a sacred practice like holy communion and baptism, and as marriage is defined by the Bible as between a man and a woman, I would tell them ‘I have no authority to marry you.’”
Despite this, Pieper remarked that he would welcome anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, to his congregation.
“We need to get the word of God to people in every church,” he said.
Chris Cobb, senior pastor at the non-denominational Bible Fellowship Church in Greenville, echoed Pieper’s beliefs.
“My opinion is that neither SCOTUS or the Constitution defines marriage,” he said. “SCOTUS does not possess the authority to redefine a term that has been in common usage for thousands of years.”
Cobb said that his church, though unwilling to perform same-sex marriages, does welcome LGBT persons to attend.
“I hope and pray that our church members will show love to them,” he said.
“Homosexuality is a sin,” said Cobb, “Heterosexual adultery is also a sin. We aren’t staking out a special position for homosexuality.”
He added, “God sent Jesus to redeem people and forgive sins. Regardless of the sin, all repentant sinners are accepted at the cross.”