Wyoming Unites for Marriage

Thirty-one faith leaders in Wyoming signed their names to a statement calling for the state to allow gay marriage.

“Every faith leader will always be free to determine which marriages to bless or officiate and which to not,” read the statement, an effort of Wyoming Unites for Marriage, a Cheyenne-based effort to legalize gay marriage in the Equality State. “Marriage for same-sex couples will not change that fundamental principle. However, for those of us who do lead welcoming and affirming faiths, it will finally remove a long-standing obstacle to our pastoral care - and allow us to minister equally to all families in our community.”

Jeran Artery, chairman of the pro-gay rights group Wyoming Equality, which is behind Wyoming Unites, said the organization worked on the effort over the last couple of weeks. Artery first reached out to religious leaders who he knew were supportive of gay rights; then he was led to others. The organization recently compiled a list of attorneys supportive of gay marriage, too.

In March, four same-sex couples and Wyoming Equality sued Gov. Matt Mead and other state officials in Laramie County District Court in Cheyenne to challenge the state’s ban on gay marriage.

“For the last couple of years, the message within the GLBT community and the faith community was pick one or the other because you can’t have both,” he said. “We need to break down that barrier.”

Sometimes, people struggle reconciling their faith with their sexual identities.

“They’re told they’re going to hell,” Artery said. “They don’t feel safe or loved.”

They leave their churches, which can be difficult spiritually. Worse, some gay people commit suicide because of religious conflict, he said.

Most of the faith leaders came from Christian denominations. There were no representatives of Catholic Church or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Artery is hopeful that, as those churches discuss gay members, support will increase for gay marriage.

“Some of the smaller churches in smaller communities say, ‘Hey, we support the freedom,’ was surprising,” Artery said.

The Rev. Anetta Davenport of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Thermopolis is a supporter of gay marriage.

“I believe Christ calls us to love one another,” she said. “I’d rather err on the side of love. It’s not up to me to judge, anyway.”

Davenport is newly ordained. She hasn’t been asked to perform any commitment ceremonies at her church. She was raised in Thermopolis, moved away as an adult and has returned after retirement to serve the congregation.

“It’s not something we talk about openly,” she said. “It’s a touchy subject for some people.”

The Rev. Dee Lundberg of the Casper United Church of Christ said acceptance of gay marriage comes down to how one reads the Bible. She doesn’t take the Bible literally. She believes the Bible is a source of ethics and stories.

“There’s a little, tiny bit in the Old Testament that talks about gay marriage,” she said, referring to the part of the Book of Leviticus that says a man should not lie with another man.

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In Genesis, Sodom and Gomorrah that gay rights opponents cite "is a story about hospitality and inhospitality," she said.

But Leviticus was written for a small, struggling band of Israelites who were living among other cultures, she said. The book helped them establish a cultural identity. A paragraph before the section about a man not lying with another man, it says children should be murdered for cursing their parents, she said.

Leviticus also prohibits people from eating hoofed animals and shellfish and from planting two types of seed on the same ground, such as corn and peas; people regularly violate Leviticus, she said.

In the Book of Romans, it says men weren’t supposed to lust after other men, Lundberg said.

The book was written in the time of Paul to a community that witnessed Greek and Roman philosophers have sex with students. The story sets up rules for how the Christian community is different than other cultures, she said.

Lundberg challenges people to look for the Gospels’ statements on homosexuality.

“Jesus is silent on the subject.”

Jesus loved the oppressed – prostitutes, widows, tax collectors and commoners, she said.

“We don’t want to promote promiscuity,” she said. “We want to promote covenant and commitment.”

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Reach political reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at laura.hancock@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.