Like many LGBTQ people, Olivia Hamilton never thought she would get married — let alone have her wedding in a Christian church.
And to take it one step further, she now officiates weddings (same-sex and straight) as an ordained Episcopal priest in a Southwest Ohio parish.
“The Episcopal Church understands marriage as a sacrament,” Hamilton said. “We could see that the church offered us a spiritual home where we could make a spiritual commitment to each other. And we could do that surrounded by a community of love and acceptance.”
Being inclusive of all people is core tenet of the Episcopal Church and they began allowing same-sex marriage in 2015, days after the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. There is a small minority of Episcopal priests who wouldn’t officiate same-sex weddings, but common practice is for them to refer the couple to another priest who will.
But that stands in contrast to some Ohio lawmakers who are trying to push anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans legislation through the Ohio Statehouse in the name of religion.
“It is really quite hypocritical,” said Rev. Jed Dearing, the rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Columbus. “It’s an attack to make it seem like people are doing work to drum up support among constituents and go after those who tend to be marginalized. It makes me deeply sad when people do it in the name of Jesus. … It’s low hanging culture war fruit.”
The Supreme Court just recently ruled in favor of a Christian graphic artist from Colorado who didn’t want to make wedding websites for same-sex couples, citing the First Amendment.
Anti-gay and anti-trans bills
Ohio state Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, suggested in a sermon four years ago at Fremont Baptist Church that homosexuality and trans people break away from God’s plan for families.
Click, who is a pastor at the Fremont church, introduced House Bill 68 which would prevent doctors from giving puberty blockers and hormone therapy to trans youth. It would also ban physicians from performing gender reassignment surgery on a minor even though many opponents and hospital administrators testified that no Ohio children’s hospital currently performs gender-affirming surgery on those under 18.
Other bills in currently in the General Assembly would force educators to out students to their parents and require public schools to give parental notification before teaching “sexuality content,” and another would ban transgender students from being able to use the bathroom and locker room that aligns with their gender identity.
“The dichotomy isn’t Christians and the LGBTQ community,” said Vicki Zust, the rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Upper Arlington. “The dichotomy is those who follow the way of love and those who don’t.”
Christians believe that marriage is a reflection of God’s love for people.
“It’s important that we reflect that love as clearly as we can,” Zust said. “And that’s not done by excluding people.”
History of same-sex marriage in Ohio and the Episcopal church
The Episcopal Church’s General Convention declared in 1976 that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.”
Ohioans voted to pass a constitutional amendment in November 2004 that prohibited same-sex marriage, until the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015 in a case that came out of Ohio.
Where a Christian denomination stands on same-sex marriage depends on how they interpret scripture from the Bible, Dearing said.
“To not be welcoming and accepting and to not celebrate marriage is an idea that’s past its sell-by date,” he said.
The Episcopal Church takes seriously their baptismal covenant, which includes looking out for the dignity in all people.
“What does it mean to offer somebody dignity?” Dearing said. “To be a beloved child of God means you can love another, no matter if they’re man or woman or how they might identify their gender.”
Zust officiated same-sex weddings in Buffalo, New York when she lived there for 12 years before it was legal nationwide. New York legalized same-sex marriage in June 2011.
“Marriage is marriage,” Zust said. “People who want to get married, want to get married, and it doesn’t really matter the makeup of the couple.”
Michael and John
Michael Gilligan and John Indalecio have been together for 32 years and got married on July 24, 2010, at the Town Hall in Greenwich, Connecticut — where same-sex marriage was legalized in November 2008.
They exchanged vows and had their marriage blessed at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Manhattan on Sept. 5, 2010, in a joint ceremony with a lesbian couple they are friends with.
“In many ways, we never even believed (marriage) would happen,” said Gilligan, 73. “And suddenly, it was happening. We were able to get legally married. And we were able to have this double ceremony.”
Gilligan and Indalecio, 59, first met in Columbus before moving to New York City for about two decades before returning to Columbus a few years ago where they are now parishioners at Trinity Episcopal.
Growing up in Newark, Ohio in the 1950s and 1960s, Gilligan said he didn’t know gay people who were out, so he had a hard time wrapping his mind around being in a long-term committed relationship.
“The fact that it could be celebrated in a Christian church that followed a traditional liturgy that was both traditional in terms of its theology in some ways but fully embracing, was really not even in the realm of imagination for me,” he said.
It was important to them that they were married legally and that their marriage was blessed. They came from a Roman Catholic background and joined the Episcopal church in 2005.
“Often there’s an experience of condemnation and judgment, and that it’s impossible to be right with God if you’re gay,” Gilligan said. “I certainly think that it’s really important for churches to wrestle with that and to realize that God loves everyone. … There are so many churches that treat gay relationships as anathema. There needs to be other churches that proclaim God’s love.”
They find these anti-LGBTQ bills deeply concerning, especially for young people.
“I’m afraid that some of the recent legislation … are going to put kids back where I was in the 1950s,” Gilligan said. “That’s not healthy. It’s not smart. And it’s not life giving.”
Olivia and Molly
Olivia Hamilton started dating her now wife Molly in 2009 after meeting through mutual friends and they got married on Sept. 17, 2016, in St. James Episcopal Church in Boston, where they were living at the time.
“That was really awesome for us to be able to have a church home that felt inclusive,” she said.
They weren’t initially sold on the idea of marriage. Molly viewed it as a privilege that excluded queer people.
“She didn’t really feel like it was a piece of the pie that she necessarily wanted,” Hamilton said.
But the couple’s perspective on marriage began to shift when they started attending St. James.
“To say I’m a queer Christian, and I can be a part of a community where those things aren’t in conflict with each other is very important,” Hamilton said.
She did not grow up Episcopalian.
“Growing up non-Christian and growing up queer, it would have been very shocking to me as a 17-year-old to be like, you’re gonna get married in a Christian church,” she said. “I would have thought that was ludicrous.”
Molly was Methodist, but they started looking for a church that was more progressive on gender and sexuality issues when they moved to Boston in 2012 and a friend recommended they check out an Episcopal church and the rest is history.
After going through the discernment process, Hamilton was ordained in 2020 in Boston and she recently celebrated her two-year anniversary at Calvary Episcopal Church in Clifton, Ohio.
“When I officiate a queer wedding there’s an unspoken ‘I get it’ about different reservations folks might have or different ways that people might be approaching religion differently based on their experience as queer folk, and I hope that I bring a sensitivity to it that makes people feel seen and validated,” she said.
This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.