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Gay marriage debated at Sunday's services

Some churches back SJC ruling; others not as receptive

MILTON -- Near the end of yesterday's service at First Parish Unitarian Universalist, the Rev. John Robinson read a prayer request from a man and woman who had been married 33 years. Their anniversary was greeted with a murmur of appreciation from the congregation. Then Robinson read a note from a woman who was looking forward to marrying her female partner now that the state's highest court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

The congregation erupted with applause so vigorous that the list of prayer requests was temporarily halted.

"The people in this congregation are overjoyed that they'll be recognized as a loving couple," said Robinson after the service. "It's overwhelmingly supportive."

Same-sex marriage was a common topic at many churches around the state yesterday, the first Sunday since the Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Tuesday that it is unconstitutional to prevent same-sex couples from enjoying the protections and benefits of marriage.

At First Parish Unitarian Universalist, which has been performing marriages for 325 years since its Puritan-era founding, the court's ruling was welcomed.

Robinson, the minister, said the First Parish has been performing same-sex union ceremonies for several years and will probably perform marriages once the law is clarified.

"Love between two adults should be celebrated and honored," said Robinson.

"If the Mormons or the Roman Catholics or any other group chooses not to recognize those as marriages, that's fine, but it should not be imposed upon the other churches," he added.

The view was different at New Covenant Christian Church in Mattapan, where Bishop Gilbert Thompson spoke in favor of heterosexual marriage, "the only union that creates life," and rebuked the court's decision to "redefine marriage."

"We are standing against demonic forces that are out to destroy not only marriage, but family," Thompson said, throwing his hands up as choruses of "Amen!" and "Yes, Lord!" filled the air.

"We are not against any person, but certainly we stand in favor of marriage being what it actually is -- the union of a man and a woman," Thompson said.

A woman in the front row raised her hands and closed her eyes tight as she spoke to God in prayer. After the service, Maxi Hudson said she believed the SJC decision was a "sign of the end times."

"The Bible says men with men is an abomination to God," she said. "My opinion comes straight from the Bible, not from my mind."

A poll published in the Sunday Globe indicated that 50 percent of Massachusetts residents surveyed supported the court's decision to legalize gay marriage, while 38 percent disagreed with it. Twelve percent did not know or refused to answer, according to the poll.

Like the mixed poll results, Michael Withington said he was wrestling with his own conflicting views.

Withington, 47, a parishioner at St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Plymouth, said gays should be allowed to marry, but he worried that that would dilute the meaning of the institution.

"If you're redefining the definition of marriage, does it now slip to more than two people can be married?" he said. "Does this now open it up to polygamy?"

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, who celebrated Mass at St. Peter's yesterday, declined to comment through a spokesman.

The Pilot, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, published an editorial on Friday that called upon all Catholics to oppose legal unions between gays.

Outside St. Peter's yesterday, parishioner Kathleen Powers, 60, said the relationship between a husband and wife has always been the basis of family in societies around the world and should remain that way.

"My belief is based on social mores that go back centuries, going back to the caveman," she said. "Gay marriage is a step too far -- it just doesn't feel right."

At the Jesuit Urban Center at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in the South End, the Rev. Thomas J. Regan said the court ruling "raises all sorts of questions about how society and the church will go forward."

"Let us not have any delusions -- the implementation of this ruling has incredible potential to unite or divide us in a variety of ways," said Regan, the head of the Society of Jesus in New England.

John F. Kelly, a parish councilor who travels from Dorchester to Immaculate Conception every Sunday, estimated that three-quarters of the parishioners are gay.

He said he was pleased by Regan's stance.

"He was actually real about it," Kelly said. "He was leaving it up to God, rather than stating his own opinion."

In other churches around the state, religious leaders planned yesterday to confront the issue and discuss it openly with their congregations.

The Rev. Peter Ives of the First Churches of Northampton, which has United Church of Christ and Baptist affiliations, said he would share the biblical story of Ruth and Naomi, in which Ruth pledges everything she has to Naomi, to show that the Bible supports covenants between people of the same sex.

"The marriage covenant was never meant solely for a man and a woman," Ives said.

The Rev. Howard John Wesley of St. John's Congregational Church in Springfield said he believed that God expects people to reject sinful ways such as homosexuality.

"I don't believe it's possible to be a gay Christian," Wesley said.

Globe correspondent Ron DePasqualecontributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.

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