United Church of Christ leaders in the USA have hailed a unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to reject the state's ban on same-gender marriage as unconstitutional - writes J. Bennett Guess.
Iowa now joins Massachusetts and Connecticut in becoming the third state to allow same-sex couples to marry.
"Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa are three states whose cultures were shaped profoundly by the Congregational experience," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president. "I can't help but believe and affirm that there is a connection at work here."
The United Church of Christ has 179 local churches in Iowa and Grinnell College - one of state's most prominent liberal arts schools - is historically related to the denomination.
"Words can hardly express how delighted and relieved I am for same sex couples in Iowa - more than a few of whom are my friends - for whom the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling is a gift," said the Rev Rich Pleva, UCC Iowa Conference Minister. "I'm also aware that the people and churches of the Iowa Conference are not of one mind on this issue. This is a time to underscore and affirm our covenant to being of one heart and one body, even at times when we may not agree."
The Rev Mike Schuenemeyer, the UCC's minister for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns, said the ruling has "advanced justice and equality for all Iowans and set an example for the country."
"I join with many other people of faith to celebrate the court's decision," Schuenemeyer said. "We have witnessed the abundance of God's blessing that so clearly rests on same-sex couples and different-sex couples and their families. We also know too well the harm that discrimination brings. Thus we continue our commitment to win this same freedom to marry throughout the country for which the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled today."
Pleva said the Iowa Conference will be offering opportunities for ongoing conversation and mutual learning "so that together we can continue to be one church that is united in commitment to Christ though diverse in the application of Christ's gospel to the situations of our own lives and the many communities of which we are part."
At Pleva's invitation, Schuenemeyer is scheduled to be in Iowa next week to meet with clergy and lay leaders to discuss the Court's decision, its impact on LGBT families and the diverse reactions of church members.
"Laws that exclude same-sex couples from the fundamental right to marry cannot be allowed to stand," Schuenemeyer said. "Regardless of how one feels about marriage, this ruling affirms the essential value of America that our laws must protect everyone equally and they must treat everyone with the same dignity, respect, rights and responsibilities."
The 1.2-million-member United Church of Christ has more than 5,500 congregations in the United States. It was formed by the 1957 union of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.