The Student News Site of Ithaca College

Ithaca Week

Ithaca Week

Ithaca Week

Community reacts to Presbyterian Church recognizing gay marriage

The First Presbyterian Church in Ithaca.
The First Presbyterian Church in Ithaca.
Marilyn Sargent had a “self-hatred” she couldn’t identify. Living in loneliness and depression, she had spent her time running from herself, seeing therapist after therapist, until finally the eighth professional Marilyn saw led her to confess her feelings for women.

Eventually, Marilyn met the love of her life, Connie, a closeted woman living in a homophobic community, in 1990. After coming out in 1993 to her colleagues at a faculty high school meeting, Marilyn spent 20 years with Connie before the couple officially tied the knot in 2013. Both Presbyterian, however, they couldn’t get married in their favorite church or by their favorite pastor. And it wasn’t until a few days ago, when couples like Marilyn and Connie could finally get access to that right.

On March 17, the Presbyterian Church (PC) updated its constitution to recognize same-sex marriage. While the General Assembly of the PC, the country’s largest Presbyterian denomination, approved the amendment to its Book of Order last June, the change had to win approval from 171 local bodies to become official.

“This church would have been ordaining and marrying a long time ago if it were up to us locally to make that decision,” Reverend Kirianne Riehl, Head Pastor of Ithaca’s First Presbyterian Church said.

As of right now, there are no same-sex marriages planned at her church, Riehl said. However, she expected that will soon change.

In 2011, the Presbyterian denomination eliminated obstacles to ordaining clergy with same-sex partners, but until last week, individual churches and ministers could not marry gay couples and risked penalties for doing so. The amendment to the constitution still states that individual churches can choose not to perform such marriages.

“[When the amendment passed], I was absolutely thrilled,” Sargent said. “It would have been nice [to have passed earlier], but the fact it has happened at all is a thrill. Institutions move backwards most of the time, so we are just pleased that it has happened now.”

The connection between religion and sexual orientation has been one of debate around the country, especially over the last week. On March 26, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a religious freedom bill into law that protects business owners from being required to serve same-sex couples if they have religious objections.

“There’s a variety of opinions in any place, but I would think that [the amendment] would be more authentically felt by people in Tompkins County as part of the open, real way that life is,” Reverend Rick Bair, Pastor of Ithaca’s St. Luke Lutheran Church and University Chaplain of Cornell University, said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey, Ithaca ranks 14th on the list of U.S. cities with the most amount of same-sex couples per 1,000 households.

“I am thinking Presbyterian folks are happy, and I am thinking that friends of Presbyterian folks are happy,” Luca Maurer, LGBT Education, Outreach & Services Program Director at Ithaca College, said. “I would think for that some Presbyterian folks, and some folks who are not Presbyterian, this gives them great hope that this is a conversation that will allow people to bring their whole selves to their place of worship, which I think is terrific.”

“This congregation has been working for something like this for a long time,” Riehl said. “Hopefully [the amendment] is a relief and one more sign for people that the world can be a welcoming place for them.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to Ithaca Week

Your donation will support the student journalists of Ithaca College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Ithaca Week

Comments (0)

All Ithaca Week Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *