The United Church of Christ's Connecticut Conference has backed marriage for same-sex couples, but local churches will now decide whether to follow the policy. At a two-day annual meeting in Suffield on Saturday, 390 delegates approved a resolution supporting same-sex marriage, said Mark Dost, a delegate from the First Congregational Church of Watertown. The resolution, which says same-sex couples should not be excluded from the civil right of marriage, was opposed by 138 delegates. Twenty delegates abstained. "I'm disappointed with the vote by the delegates at the Connecticut Conference during the annual meeting," said Dost, who spoke against the resolution at the conference. "I'm concerned that it could cause local congregations to reconsider their affiliation with the Connecticut Conference."
Same-sex marriage has been a major issue with United Church of Christ pastors and church members, leading to worries that churches may break away from the conference. In June, the First Church of Christ in Wethersfield quit the denomination over its disagreements with the church's theological stance. Local churches, which are autonomous, are not required to abide by the vote. The Reverend Peter Smith, pastor of First Congregational Church in Thomaston, said the denomination already has backed civil rights for gay couples, and he asked whether the denomination has gone as far as it can without alienating a large number of congregations. "How many churches does the denomination want to lose?" he asked. "I think there are some churches that are saying, 'If this goes through, that's it."'
James Morgan, spokesman for the Connecticut Conference, says the state church's leadership is aware that some churches could quit if the resolution is approved, adding that "that would not be our primary consideration in discerning and determining how we proceed."