For years, if same-sex couples wanted a religious commitment ceremony or wedding, they had only one option, UFMCC — the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. Founded in 1968, the church has 222 member congregations in 37 countries. A mainline Protestant denomination, UFMCC has special outreach to LGBTQ people as part of its ministry and has long been called “the gay church.”
But while UFMCC still does weddings and has always been welcoming to same-sex couples who wish to be married by a minister in a religious ceremony, since states began legalizing same-sex marriage in 2004 in Massachusetts, and nationally since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015, same-sex couples have increasingly sought to have weddings in their own denominations.
On November 10, 2013, there was a furor in the United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania when a Methodist pastor, Rev. Frank Schaeffer, officiated at the marriage of his gay son, Tim. Schaeffer faced sanctions for the action and was put on trial by the UMC for violating church teachings.
In solidarity with Schaeffer, 50 Methodist ministers performed a gay marriage in Philadelphia at the historic Arch Street United Methodist Church near Rittenhouse Square. Rick Taylor and Bill Gatewood, then 55 and 70, had been together for 25 years and wanted to celebrate that milestone with a marriage ceremony. Taylor told the Inquirer at the time that he and Gatewood did not want to marry somewhere else where gay marriage was legal, like neighboring New Jersey, because the Arch Street church was theirs and the ministry had always welcomed LGBTQ folks.
Taylor said, “Our church home is here and means the world to us.”
But not all same-sex couples will find such welcome within their respective churches. Those in Judeo-Christian religions in Philadelphia and New Jersey who want a church or synagogue wedding may be blessed or disappointed, depending on their denomination. While same-sex couples can legally marry everywhere in the U.S. — all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and American territories like Puerto Rico — not all religions acknowledge the law.
Taylor and Gatewood’s marriage is still not sanctioned by their denomination. The United Methodist Eastern Conference did not return PGN’s calls, but according to UMC doctrine, “Based on its teachings, the United Methodist Church officially prohibits the blessing of weddings of same-sex couples by its clergy or in its churches.”
In February the UMC voted 438-384 to uphold and strengthen its ban on same-sex marriage and same-sex clergy at the General Conference in St. Louis.
The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world and the oldest, with 1.4 billion members globally. There are 70 million Catholics in the U.S. Catholic doctrine terms “homosexual tendencies” as “objectively disordered.” The Philadelphia Catholic Archdiocese, one of the largest in the country, was succinct when PGN contacted their offices. “No, we do not perform or sanction same-sex marriages.”
The Episcopal Archdiocese, an American branch of the Anglican church, which is an off-shoot of Catholicism, had a completely different response. “Yes, you can get married at any of our churches.”
For Jewish members of the LGBTQ community, there are many Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues that welcome same-sex couples, including the historic Rodeph Shalom synagogue in Center City and one of the nation’s oldest, Mikveh Israel, in Society Hill. But same-sex marriage is considered “categorically forbidden by the Torah” and Orthodox Judaism maintains that view.
PGN was unable to get a local response regarding Islam, which has no central governing body. But according to HRC, “same-sex weddings are performed by very few imams individually,” but says some Unity Mosques may have different policies.
PGN called several local churches, synagogues and mosques and found a wide range of responses to the request for a same-sex wedding. If a religious ceremony is what you seek, options are certainly available in Philadelphia, including more than mentioned here, but still, LGBTQ couples can be and are turned away at many places of worship.