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Local Priest Says Churches Are ‘Puppets of the State’ When It Comes to Marriage

Richfield Patch continues its series on local churches and their position on the proposed marriage amendment.

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.”

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Kevin Parks June 14, 2012 at 06:10 AM
Kevin (Which, the names alone are going to be confusing.) I actually appreciate what you are saying, however I feel I must point out something. I have a brother who was gay. That being said, I can say with some authority nobody would choose to be gay, and if it were a learned trait than why am I, nor my two other brothers gay, having being raised in the same house with the same values?
Kevin O'Donovan June 14, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Mr.Parks, Nobody can, with certainty, state whether same sex attraction is an inherited or acquired trait. If we agree on that, why would we want to validate an issue before we know the facts. As to why one family member may be effected and another not, why do some people prefer dogs and some prefer cats. I have four brothers and all were attracted to great women with widely differing appearances and personalities. Some things we may never know. As for my saying that same sex attraction is a mental illness, I think the APA reversal was a political decision not a scientific one, and candidly it may be a personality disorder, or some other difficulty less charged than the term "Mental Illness " tends to generate.. Please read Congressman Wm.Dannemeyer's book "Shadow in the Land" for historical references. I have a lot of sympathy for people suffering from same sex attraction. We all have our challenges and have to be open to honest reflection and self discipline. Should every appetite deserve legal sanction? Do we dismiss inconvenient facts or are we selective in our studying, searching only for information that supports our hypothesis? As we all know anecdotal evidence is among the weakest. Both sides of this issue are passionate. We need to know more before we change the system in place. We do not know for a fact how this would effect our children or culture. "Do No Harm" should be our first consideration.
Seth Engman June 14, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Hi Kevin, I looked into Dannemeyer a little bit and I would certainly say the argument does not start and end with him. While he may provide some historical context, his stance has also been called "very subjective and prejudiced." Others will say the APA decision was reversing a decision that was previously more political and based on social norms of the day rather than based in evidence. Subsequent research would appear to support the latter stance. http://www.livescience.com/13409-myths-gay-people-debunked-sexual-orientation.html Here is an interesting survey of the history of mental health regarding homosexuality: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_mental_health.html
Kevin O'Donovan June 15, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Seth, Thanks for checking out Dannemeyer. I agree that he is not an impartial source, but I believe he is historically accurate. I would think that most people could agree that there is no definitive answer as to how same sex attraction is developed in any individual. I think most would also agree it is not the ideal condition. All people deserve to be treated with respect and have their innate dignity as individuals recognized. Discrimination is not unjustifiable under all circumstances. There is a real danger to children and our culture to impulsively endorse a possibly learned behavior, one that most people would agree is less than desirable. I don't see any harm by retaining in law the traditional views on marriage and family. There are legal remedies available, through individual contract, that address the concerns of homosexual marriage advocates. I believe that society at large is harmed by weakening the traditional practice, and respect for marriage and family. No fault quickie divorces, a hyper sexualized perspective of life, irresponsible pregnancies, casual sex, accompanying a general disregard for proven traditions are dangerous and harmful to everyone.
Seth Engman June 15, 2012 at 05:30 AM
Hi Kevin, I don't know about "ideal conditions" or "desirable," but I think many people make the best of the situations they are dealt. What you may see as "impulsive" others see as a long struggle, and I'd say there is enough compelling evidence to consider a biological factor in determining sexual preference. I'll ask you to look into Zach Wahls, author of "My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family," whose testimony before an Iowa House Judiciary Committee became a popular viral video. He is a well-adjusted individual with a family that values strength of character and has struggled with discrimination. I'll contend there are are great many others in a similar situation. I have to disagree with your idea of equivalency from this and previous comments, and I believe that contractual remedies are not enough and it is not fair to make some people jump through hoops for rights and privileges automatically granted to others. Traditions change over time, so I'm not sure what you think is required of a traditional marriage or family. I was just reading about dowries and that was all over the place and I learned about the concept of "bride price." The idea of the "romantic" marriage where the bride and groom mutually agree to marry is relatively recent. I hope you don't think think the idea of not having the chicken dance is immoral, because I don't intend on having that tradition at my wedding.

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