Iowa churchgoers bar gay couple from marrying in childhood church
A gay couple has had to find a new location for their wedding after a vote among churchgoers at their chosen location failed to grant them permission to marry there.
Derek Harmon wanted to get married to his fiancé Jesus Martell Gonzalez at Salem Lutheran Church, the congregation he attended as a child in Lake Mills, Iowa, where his siblings too married their partners.
Harmon’s parents supported their son and his partner’s choice and vouched for them in front of the congregation, who held a vote on Sunday (April 28) to decide whether to change their constitution so that same-sex couples could get married in their church.
“It was very difficult for me to hear some of the conversations that were happening in the church and to hear people talking about this type of marriage being a sin and them not knowing my heart.”
— Jesus Martell Gonzalez
While 103 people voted in support of the gay couple, 98 voted against them, as reported by NBC-affiliated local news channel WHO-DT.
As such, the vote failed the reach the two thirds majority necessary to change the church’s constitution—even though the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as a denomination sanctions marriage equality, which became legal in all 50 states following a 2015 Supreme Court ruling, each congregation can decide whether to allow same-sex marriages in their churches.
The couple’s ordeal lasted 14 months, ever since Harmon sent an email to the church in February 2018, asking whether they could get married there.
The couple tells PinkNews that the motivation for getting married in the Salem Lutheran Church in Iowa was never about just their wedding—they believe it was important to send a message to the wider community and to LGBT+ youth in particular.
“We both grew up in a church. Speaking for myself, I did not have a positive experience coming out in the church and so we wanted to do this to show other younger people that it is possible to be part of a loving community and to have a faith and still be who you are,” Gonzalez, who grew up in California, says.
“We’re definitely going to pursue a wedding somewhere where they embrace inclusiveness, not where they shame it.”
— Derek Harmon
Even though the vote’s result was disappointing, the couple has no regrets.
“I think that we’ve shown that you should fight for what you believe in and even if the outcome is not what you anticipated it is very important to continue to have those very difficult conversations and it’s important to keep on talking about it because it’s how change will happen,” Gonzalez explains.
“It was very difficult for me to hear some of the conversations that were happening in the church and to hear people talking about this type of marriage being a sin and them not knowing my heart,” he adds, “I’m just like them and anyone else who wants to get married.”
Iowa no longer viable location for their wedding
The two, who got engaged in September 2017, no longer consider Iowa as a viable location where to celebrate their wedding.
“It just doesn’t feel safe at this point,” Harmon says, referencing some of the abusive messages the couple has received on social media in the past few months.
He continues: “We’re definitely going to pursue a wedding somewhere where they embrace inclusiveness, not where they shame it.
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“I think it is a shame that there are still parts of the country that spew fear and intolerance in the name of God, I find that quite frankly appalling.”
Harmon adds: “People continue to oppress people who are not like them. You see that with people of colour, you see that with gay people, with trans people, it is the ugly part of the world these days.”
Making the long struggle more bearable, however, was the strong support of their family and friends.
The Iowa native says: “I was surprised by the amount of support. I came from that town and the level of close-mindedness initially, when I was there, was crazy and I was blown away by the amount of support and love we had behind us and that to me is inspiring and provides hope for the future.”