The Rev. Tom Eklo of Richfield’s St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, after voicing his opposition to the , went even further recently, saying he’d like to get out of the marriage business altogether.
“I don’t think clergy should be doing marriages," he said. "We’re basically puppets of the state in that regard."
According to Eklo the state is responsible for marrying individuals—and because marriage is thus a civil, rather than religious contract—religious organizations, of any denomination, should not be tasked with performing marriages.
“My ideal situation would be to get out of the way," he said. "Have clergy do blessings of unions between individuals."
Eklo has been on staff at St. Nicholas since 2005 and estimates that the church has between 60 and 70 regularly attending members for Sunday worship. While cautioning that he could not speak for the St. Nicholas congregation as a whole, Eklo was confident that most St. Nicholas members agreed with him regarding the marriage amendment.
“The individuals within the church tend to be pretty progressive,” he said. “I’ll use that word. I would guess that the vast majority of the people in the parish probably stand in opposition to the marriage amendment.”
No other members of St. Nicholas’ staff were willing to speak about the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The Larger Episcopalian Picture in Minnesota
St. Nicholas is one of 108 Episcopalian churches in Minnesota, and Eklo is not alone amongst other church members in opposing the marriage amendment. At its annual convention in October 2011, the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, which is the faith’s representative body in the state, passed a resolution opposing the proposed amendment.
The vote pledged that the Episcopal Church would join other faiths and nonprofit organizations across Minnesota in signing a resolution prepared by Minnesotans United for All Families, which opposes the marriage amendment. The voting body of Minnesota’s Episcopal Church is composed of clergy from around the state as well as lay delegates.
Wendy Johnson, a spokesperson for the organization, said that while the Episcopal Church in Minnesota had passed the resolution, prior to the November 2012 elections it did not have further plans to organize members in opposition.
“I can’t really say across the board who’s doing what,” Johnson said. “Obviously it’s kind of grassroots activity at the local level—there’s no statewide organization.”
Regardless of a couple’s sexual orientation, Eklo said that having clergy perform blessings, rather than marriages, would clear up some of the legal entanglements he sees involved in having clergy perform marriages.
“There are 500 laws that apply to married couples that do not apply to unmarried couples—I don’t care if you’re same-sex or heterosexual,” Eklo said. “It’s clearly a civil arrangement…what we [clergy] are doing when we marry people is taking the place of the judge, and adding a sacred role.”
Eklo’s solution? Make the civil contract of marriage separate from the blessing provided by a member of the clergy.
“In a perfect world it would be cool for people to go somewhere and get married and then go and have a blessing within the confines of a church,” he said. “But that’s not the way it works.”
The Episcopal Church will be considering issues surrounding same-sex couples at its 2012 general convention. The church has not yet come out with a unified stance on same-sex couples which would apply across the United States, instead giving wide latitude to bishops within individual dioceses to decide whether Episcopalian priests may perform blessings or marriages for same-sex couples.
Although some Episcopalian priests in Minnesota have performed blessings for same-sex couples, the church has not yet authorized clergy to do so statewide.
“I personally don’t have a problem with doing blessings between two same-sex individuals,” Eklo said. “I’ve never done it, because I’ve never been asked to, but I wouldn’t have a problem with doing that.”
Eklo made it clear that he was not “out to change the world,” but said rather his own faith called on him to oppose the marriage amendment.
“We’re all beloved by God. For us to single out a particular group of people and say we need to put into the constitution that this particular group of people should be denied this particular right is based on that.”
Eklo said that if it ever became legal for same-sex couples to get married in Minnesota and the Episcopal Church approved, he would be willing to perform such ceremonies. While the Episcopal Church's rules define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, they also call on clergy members to "conform to the laws of the state" governing marriage.
“I obviously can’t conduct a legal civil marriage between two same-sex individuals, because it’s not allowed by the state,” he said. “But if the state gave clergy the responsibility or ability to perform same-sex marriages, I would do that.”
Other related articles: