Something new: Same-sex wedding ceremonies at churches
BY FRANCINE KNOWLES Religion Reporter May 30, 2014 7:14PM
Anthony Dobrowolski (left) and Robert Vogler at Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times
- Quinn: Illinois now on right side of history
- Interactive map: Where gay marriage is legal, banned
- Support for same-sex marriage reaches new high, poll shows
Updated: July 2, 2014 6:15AM
Church musician Robert Vogler, 62, has participated in his fair share of marriage ceremonies.
But none will be more special than the one taking place Sunday. It’s the day marriage equality becomes legal statewide in Illinois.
And it’s the day he and his partner of 23 years, Anthony Dobrowolski, will exchange marriage vows in the place they’ve called their church home for two decades. The couple always wanted to get married.
“We never had that option, and it didn’t seem like . . . in our lifetime that we ever would,” Vogler said. “When [the law] passed, we decided we’re going to do it, and we wanted to do it on June 1.”
Getting married in a church setting was important, said Vogler, who was raised Lutheran, and Dobrowolski, 61, who was raised Roman-Catholic. The couple are members of Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park, where the wedding will take place.
“We believe in being part of a religious community,” Dobrowolski said. “We’ve been very active at Grace over the years, and people at Grace have been quite wonderful to us.”
The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and United Church of Christ are among denominations that allow same-sex marriages, although individual congregations are free to decide if they will permit them in their sanctuaries, and their pastors are free to decide if they will marry same-sex couples. But representatives of the denominations say the majority of their churches in the Chicago area allow same-sex marriages. Meanwhile, Metropolitan Community Churches have supported full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people since the religious institution’s founding in 1968.
The denominations give mixed reports on what type of demand they’re seeing here from same-sex couples looking to marry this year.
There has been “a large increase, and actually an increase in destination weddings,” said the Rev. Rachelle Brown, Metropolitan Community Churches, North Central network leader in Chicago. “Many folks are coming to Illinois to be married [from] states where marriage equality does not exist. . . . I’m getting calls from Florida, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan.
“Some folks who already have [done] a civil union can go and do what I call an upgrade [to marriage] come June 1. So they may or may not just do a paperwork upgrade. Some people do want the large, formal wedding — some in the church, some not. There are many requests for church weddings.”
At Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Andersonville, the Rev. Michael Fick said seven or eight same-sex marriage ceremonies are on the books in the next few months.
“In some cases, it’s a matter of a new wedding, a new ceremony,” he said. “In some cases, it’s really more of an affirmation of vows for a couple that already had a ceremony with a different or no legal recognition a long time ago, and we’re now helping them to obtain their new marriage license. It’s a mix.”
Among the couples Fick will marry are Chicagoans Kyle Pifkin, 31, and Luis Murcia, 35, both members of his congregation for about two to three years. Fick will travel to Rock Island to perform the ceremony in August at a venue there.
Murcia knows of several upcoming same-sex marriages. “This weekend coming up there are two girls doing a ceremony, and the following weekend, there’s two other guys that are getting married,” he said earlier this week.
Robert Lawlor and his partner of 26 years, William Lincoln, will have a June 21 wedding at their home in Addison presided over by Metropolitan Community Church minister Jennie Kitch. Having a minister perform the ceremony is important to the couple, Lincoln said, stressing that, “It’s a legal commitment, but it’s also a religious commitment.”
At Grace Episcopal, one other same-sex wedding is scheduled so far this year, church rector Shawn Schreiner said.
“I would have expected lots of people to be calling,” she said. “I just don’t know whether or not everybody knows there are faith traditions who are open to doing same-sex marriages.”
Some same-sex couples may have chosen the route she and her partner did in getting married in states where it was legal last year, she speculated. She and her partner married in August in Maryland.
“Several members of our congregation, as soon as it opened up in Iowa and different places nearby, people went ahead and got married,” she said. “It has a lot to do with just wanting to go and have that legal part taken care of, for the legal protections and to have the rights that everybody else has. I know tons of couples that have gone to Iowa. Last year, we did probably five or six blessings of people who’d been to other states to get married.”
Dobrowolksi, who noted that he and Vogler had a commitment ceremony in 1995, never wanted to get married outside of Illinois.
“Many people have said to us, why don’t you go to Massachusetts or Maryland, which is where I’m from originally, and get married,” he said. “I have enough stubbornness inside of me, and I said I’m not getting married until it’s legal where I live.
“When we had our commitment ceremony, it was a lovely ceremony, and several people who are involved in the wedding were actually involved in that. We thought that was all we were ever going to be able to do, that we would never be able to have anything legal. I think that’s true of many gay couples who are in our age group. We just never thought this was going to happen.”