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Tim Vandenack
Tim Vandenack
In Indiana Buzz, reporter Tim Vandenack blogs on politics, immigration, elections, taxes, errant geese and more.



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Religion and same-sex marriage: Elkhart clergy offer some views

State lawmakers are expected to consider a proposal to put the question of amending the state Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage to voters in the Nov. 4, 2014, election.

Posted on Dec. 11, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Dec. 11, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.

Wednesday Dec. 11, 2013

Would God condemn or oppose same-sex marriage?

Some religious officials I spoke to -- in the context of the looming debate on the matter in the 2014 Indiana legislative session -- offered some insights. State lawmakers are expected to consider a proposal to put the question of amending the state Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage to voters in the Nov. 4, 2014, election.

I didn't specifically pose the what-does-the-bible-have-to-say-about-gay-marriage question. It just turns out that local religious officials seem most tuned in to the matter, pro and con, so I spoke to them. And in the course of my conversations with them, the interplay of spirituality, religion and gay marriage naturally surfaced (along with constitutional questions and observations).

Amy DeBeck, reverend at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Elkhart and a foe of the proposed amendment, suspects clergy who oppose gay marriage will turn to certain bible passages to defend their views. In the context of religion, though, the germane point, in her view, is affirming peoples' dignity.

"The church and religion calls on pastors to speak up on the worth and dignity of people and that's what we do," said DeBeck, who backs "equal marriage" rights.

Ray Laborde, pastor of McCoy Memorial Baptist Church in Elkhart, views marriage as divine, created by God as the union of one man and one woman. He backs the amendment proposal.

"God created marriage. It is not a human institution, it is a divine institution," Laborde said. Per "God's plan," he said, marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

Pastor Rob Van Ess of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Elkhart, a critic of the amendment proposal, views marriage as a "spiritual concern" for churches. By his reckoning, then, the question of whether same-sex couples should be able to marry should be left to individual churches, not decided, say, in a government document, the Indiana Constitution.

Pastor Mike Fisher of Grace Bible Church in Elkhart, an amendment backer, offers a direct correlation to God -- and morality -- in discussing the issue.

"If we allow unmarried couples living together and gay 'married' couples to be equal with God-ordained, heterosexual married couples, we will cease to be a moral society," he said in an e-mail. "When gays get equal rights, like evolution, they will not stop until they have eliminated all heterosexuality."

A PAIR OF LAWMAKERS' VIEWS

Most state lawmakers representing Elkhart County back the proposed amendment. I got hold of two on the issue last week, Indiana Reps. Tim Wesco of Osceola and Tim Neese of Elkhart, both GOPers.

"I think we need to protect and encourage the basic unit of the family of a man and a woman," said Wesco, who bases his views on biblical teachings and history.

By defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, it strengthens the institution of the family and, therefore, benefits and strengthens the state. "I think ultimately the ideal is a man and a woman and the state should encourage that ideal," Wesco said.

Neese in the past has expressed support for the amendment, but indicated a more nuanced position when I spoke to him last week. He's open to civil unions between gay partners, he said, and wouldn't object to easing the proposed amendment's language against such relationships.

Given restrictions on reworking amendment proposals, though, implementing such tweaks may prove difficult, if not impossible.

Tim Vandenack is a reporter at the Elkhart Truth newspaper in Elkhart, Ind., www.etruth.com. Reach him at tvandenack@etruth.com or 574-296-5884. Visit him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack.


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