Since the California Supreme Court's pro-gay "marriage" ruling last week, churches throughout the nation's most populous state have found themselves faced with a pressing question – "If homosexuals are allowed to 'marry,' must churches recognize and officiate at their weddings?"
In a statement issued a day after the ruling, Americans United (AU), an organization that lobbies for the separation of church and state, praised the high court's decision, while also making clear that churches would not be required, in the words of the court, to "change [their] religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples."
"In a May 15 decision, the court majority held that the state constitution mandates that same-sex couples have the same right to the benefits of civil marriage as opposite-sex couples," AU noted. "The justices made clear, however, that the ruling applies only to civil marriages.
"Religious communities remain free to marry same-sex couples or not, in keeping with their theology."
Although churches may be free to dictate their own theology independent of courts' ruling on same-sex "marriage," the decision by the California high court in favor of homosexuals has intensified debates and added salt to an already festering wound.
In recent years, theological clashes concerning the issue of same-sex "marriage" have divided churches and congregations throughout the nation – a reality that will continue to intensify even as some churches attempt to avoid discussion and dialogue over the issue.
Pastor Gregory L. Waybright of the Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena epitomized the sentiment of many churches following the California ruling.
Although homosexuality is clearly "a contradiction of what God's word says," the recent ruling complicates the role of churches as a "welcoming and loving house" for all, Waybright told the Los Angeles Times.
Even for churches supportive of the same-sex "marriage," however, the new ruling presents a variety of different complications.
"At this point in the Episcopal Church, our prayer book still defines marriage between a man and a woman. There's some question about whether we can, within the canons of our church, extend the sacrament to same-gender couples," said the Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. Russell is a supporter of same-sex "marriages."
James A. Donahue, president of the Berkeley-based Graduate Theological Union said that the California gay "marriage" ruling would continue to divide churches and pulpits across the nation.
"These are the kinds of issues every religion has to grapple with. How do you factor in the role of contemporary human rights, civil rights, the data about homosexuality with core traditions and beliefs?" he asked, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Since 2004, when the Massachusetts State Supreme Court made its ruling to recognize gay "marriage," 26 states have passed a constitutional ban on the practice, while over a dozen others have passed laws limiting or outlawing it.
According to a recent Gallup poll, gay "marriage" is unpopular among the majority of Americans. Only 40 percent of Americans "currently say marriage between same-sex couples should be legal," according to the poll's results released this month.