In a groundbreaking move that has upset some members, Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., has announced plans to perform its first same-sex marriage in the spring, reports The Courier-Journal of Louisville.
In May, Highland Baptist will solemnize the union of David Bannister Jr. and Steven Carr. “It takes courage to step out into the unknown,” Pastor Joe Phelps told the newspaper. “It’s taking us courage to be one of the first churches to do this.”
Highland Baptist is not part of the ultraconservative Southern Baptist Convention, which strongly opposes marriage equality and considers homosexuality a sin. The Louisville church ended its Southern Baptist affiliation about 20 years ago over theological differences. It is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which allows member churches to set their own policies on LGBT issues (although the fellowship will not employ so-called practicing homosexuals on its own staff), and the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship, which embraces a policy of “diversity and openness to any believer God calls to leadership and ministry,” according to its website.
Phelps, who joined Highland Baptist in 1997, said the church has gradually become an LGBT-welcoming congregation during his tenure. In 2012 it ordained a gay man, the Rev. Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, who now leads the church’s gay ministry and also is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Still, there was some tension over the decision to perform Bannister and Carr’s wedding. The couple approached Phelps about the matter two and a half years ago. There was a series of deacons’ meetings before church leaders agreed in May to host the wedding the following year. Some members of the church thought the entire congregation should have been allowed to vote on the issue.
Nothing in the church’s governing policies would require a congregational vote, and to put the marriage ceremony to a vote seemed inappropriate, Phelps said. “To vote on it is to basically ask the question, ‘Are gay people fully human like the rest of us?’” he told The Courier-Journal. “I think spiritually and morally, that’s a step we cannot take.”
The couple expressed relief and happiness that their home church would host their wedding. “It would be very sad to us if we weren’t able to have our church involved,” Bannister told the paper.
Whether the couple’s marriage will be recognized by the state of Kentucky remains to be seen. This week a federal judge ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution, but his ruling is on hold pending an appeal.