Cindy Amberger and Lynne Hvidsten did not believe they would be legally able to marry in Minnesota in their lifetimes.
As a result of a change in state law that went into effect Aug. 1, the Minnetonka couple plans to do so at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park Friday, Aug. 30.
Although they have been together for 20 years, the couple had not discussed marriage previously because state law banned marriages between two people of the same gender.
“It just wasn’t an option, so we didn’t think about it,” Hvidsten said. “We worked hard on the ‘Vote No’ and ‘Freedom to Marry’ campaigns. Most of the time we thought it would be for the next generation. We didn’t think it would be for us.”
They had accepted that marriage would not be available to them but became active after learning about the proposed constitutional amendment last fall that would have enshrined a ban on same-sex marriages in the Minnesota Constitution.
“We thought, ‘Wait a minute, this is going too far,’” Amberger said. “This is not the Minnesota we grew up in.”
Even after voters defeated the proposed amendment, the two thought marriage law would not change for years. Only after the Minnesota House approved a change in state statute to open marriage up to couples of the same gender did the two begin to think of their own plans.
“We weren’t going to count on it until we knew the votes were in,” Hvidsten said.
They will be the first same-sex couple to be married at Beth El Synagogue, a Conservative synagogue with a membership of more than 1,200 families. The two are members of the synagogue.
Classes and congregational meetings have helped prepare the congregation for the change, said Rabbi Alexander Davis, senior rabbi at Beth El Synagogue.
“We have not done any kind of public recognition previously, so this is a first for us,” Davis said.
The congregation has not hosted blessing ceremonies in the past because no requests had been made, Davis said. The opinions of members have varied on the marriage topic.
“I would say our congregation mirrors the state and national trend with it becoming more and more commonplace and embraced, but there certainly has been a small handful of congregants for whom this change is a difficult one and one they’re not comfortable with, and I’ve spoken with some of them,” Davis said.
Some members who have concerns have turned to passages in the Torah to support their opposition to same-sex marriages, Davis said.
“The thing is both sides can turn to various sources and texts to support their claims,” Davis said.
While Davis said an understanding of the Bible that included a traditional definition of marriage existed for thousands of years, “Clearly I think the congregation is ready for this change.”
He added, “There’s a greater understanding of sexual orientation today, and there’s, I think, a growing desire to embrace same-sex couples. It was not true 40-50 years ago.”
Beth El Synagogue’s rabbis have been affirming and supportive about the upcoming marriage, Amberger said. The couple said they have not experienced any resistance to their marriage at the synagogue but realized that the ceremony may be unfamiliar for some members in such a large congregation.
“I think you have to be courageous,” Amberger said.
While she said she felt a little nervous about the ceremony being so public at the synagogue, “ I think there’s young people who need to see that it’s OK.”
Added Hvidsten, “It’s another way that people can understand more of who we are with each other and sharing more of ourselves with them so they can understand and other gay people can be more understood more easily.”
Hvidsten said they learned to take personal risks in stepping up publicly during the Vote No campaign.
“You learn very quickly about just putting your heart on your sleeve and connecting with people and having heartfelt conversations,” Hvidsten said.
Pastor’s marriage becomes legal
The law change affected one St. Louis Park member of the clergy personally.
The Rev. Christy E. Dew, senior pastor at Union Congregational United Church of Christ in St. Louis Park, became legally married to Christina Dew, whom she married in a ceremony in California five years ago prior to passage of Proposition 8 in that state.
Of the Minnesota law change, Christy E. Dew said, “We’re very happy for all couples and for everyone in our congregation to be able to celebrate. For us, it was a very sweet moment (at midnight on Aug. 1), that finally we were treated as equals in the state of Minnesota and our marriage was recognized, and it was a very wonderful thing to celebrate.”
A member of the congregation who is a St. Louis Park teacher and his spouse became the first same-sex couple married in St. Paul soon after midnight Aug. 1, the pastor noted. Another couple of the same gender plan to wed at Union Congregational in the fall.
Union Congregational’s members became active in defeating the constitutional amendment last fall and have a long history of welcoming all families, the pastor said. She praised Minnesotans on both sides of the issue for engaging in a respectful dialog.
“I talked to people on the other side who wanted a ban on same-sex marriage, and they were compassionate and caring,” Christy E. Dew said of her time as an advocate at the Minnesota Capitol. “I think that’s what Minnesota did best was to talk to one another.”
The civility that occurred in Minnesota during the debate was something she said she had not observed in other places. She said that the passage of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in her home state of North Carolina, where she still has family, was difficult for her.
“That’s why having (the ability to be legally married) in the place where we live now and make our home has been so sweet,” Christy E. Dew said.
Some congregations will not change
Not all congregations will host same-sex marriages, though. The new state law specifies that change relates to civil marriage, a method legislative sponsors said made clear that the law did not apply to a designation of marriage by a religious institution.
For example, rabbis at Orthodox synagogues in Minnesota did not join rabbis at Conservative and Reform synagogues in signing a statement opposed to the constitutional amendment.
Rabbi Chaim Goldberger of Kenesseth Israel Congregation in St. Louis Park, an Orthodox synagogue, conveyed his support for the amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage in the constitution.
“I’m on record as saying that I believe the description of single-sex marriage being a Jewish position is based on a misunderstanding of Jewish tradition,” Goldberger said at the time. “Jewish tradition is clear in defining marriage as existing exclusively between a man and a woman.”
While he said the Declaration of Independence asserts that all human beings are created equal, Goldberger said it also recognizes a Creator who endows man with inalienable rights.
“How much chutzpah does it take to demand single-sex marriage on the basis of human rights without first verifying this is a right this authority wishes to grant?” Goldberger said. “If anything, I would say the opposite is true, and the burden of proof is on the petitioner.”
Aldersgate United Methodist is among other congregations that will not host same-sex marriages, but the Rev. Holly Aastuen indicated that decision relates to her denomination’s position on the issue.
“The United Methodist Church’s official stance is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and therefore, as a United Methodist clergy, I am unable to perform same-sex marriages and our congregation is not allowed to have same-sex marriages in our building,” Aastuen said in a statement. “These limits on my ability to minister to my community are a struggle for me. I want to extend a measure of grace to all people regardless of sexual orientation, but because of the guidelines of my denomination I am unable to perform the legal act of marrying a same-sex couple in my church or anywhere.”
Members of the congregation have differing views regarding same-sex marriage, Aastuen said.
“One of the strengths of Aldersgate is that there is much more that unites us than divides us,” she said. “We believe discussion of our different understandings is healthy.”
She also said, “Aldersgate and the United Methodist Church as a whole firmly believes that God loves and values all people. We offer God’s love to everyone regardless of sexual orientation and we welcome all in worship.”
Several other St. Louis Park members of the clergy contacted for this edition were unavailable for comment or did not return calls.
Contact Seth Rowe at [email protected]