Church votes to ban couple's same-sex wedding ceremony: 'It felt like a rejection'

Elise Solé

A church voted to ban a gay marriage ceremony, crushing the couple’s lifelong dream.

Derek Harmon, 31, a physician’s assistant in Bakersfield, California, always wanted to get married at Salem Lutheran Church in Lake Mills, Iowa. “His siblings married there, his parents are active members, and the church’s mission trips inspired him to go into medicine.” Hamon’s fiancé Jesus Martell Gonzalez, 30, a business development professional, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Jesus Martell Gonzalez (L) and Derek Harmon (R) are not allowed to marry at Harmon's hometown church in Iowa, because they are gay. (Photo: Courtesy of Jesus Martell Gonzalez)
Jesus Martell Gonzalez (L) and Derek Harmon (R) are not allowed to marry at Harmon's hometown church in Iowa, because they are gay. (Photo: Courtesy of Jesus Martell Gonzalez)

The gay community is accepted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), according to its website. However, it allows individual churches to decide whether or not to recognize gay marriage.

It was worth a try to Harmon, so he proposed to Gonzalez on a private island in Zanzibar, and in 2018, the couple met with church leaders. “The pastors were compassionate and understanding,” Gonzalez tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But they said our request needed approval from the church’s board of directors and a vote by the congregation.”

Members of the Salem Lutheran Church in Lake Mills, Iowa will not allow  engaged couple Jesus Martell Gonzalez (L) and Derek Harmon (R) to marry there. (Photo: Courtesy of Jesus Martell Gonzalez)
Members of the Salem Lutheran Church in Lake Mills, Iowa will not allow engaged couple Jesus Martell Gonzalez (L) and Derek Harmon (R) to marry there. (Photo: Courtesy of Jesus Martell Gonzalez)

While waiting to hear back from the church, preparations — including a wedding date — were stalled. In late 2018, the church held its first vote. “That was contentious,” says Gonzalez. “There were arguments about whether people cheated by voting twice.”

On Sunday the 14-month waiting period ended. According to Iowa television station WHO-HD, 103 people voted to allow the wedding and 98 people voted to ban it.

“Derek’s mother called that afternoon and it was crushing because I know the church means so much to him,” Gonzalez tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It felt like a rejection. That’s not what church is about.”

Gonzalez says friends of Harmon and a Catholic nun have either tried persuading members of the congregation to allow the ceremony or offered spiritual guidance. The couple might ask a pastor friend in Southern California to marry them outside the church.

A representative from ECLA and Salem Lutheran Church did not return interview requests by Yahoo Lifestyle.

“We thought by marrying in church it would be inspirational to gay Christian couples,” Gonzalez tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s important for us to share this, even though we didn’t get the outcome we wanted.”

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