LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Kentucky law bans them and federal Appeals courts have not weighed in on the challenges to such bans, but Deacons have decided Louisville's Highland Baptist Church will perform marriages for same-sex couples, though the full congregation has not voted on the issue.
Kentucky's chapter director of the American Civil Liberties Union Michael Aldridge knows Highland Baptist Church left the Southern Baptist Convention years ago, joining what many would call the more moderate-to-liberal-Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
He also knows the CBF takes no position on gay marriage. So to hear that Highland Baptist will soon perform weddings for gay and lesbian couples?
"It's huge in a state like Kentucky," Aldridge said Wednesday. "The lawsuits are what is going to have to grant the legal rights to marriage in Kentucky and across the nation. But it's very affirming that these people of faith are being accommodating of their parishioners."
Highland's Board of Deacons announced its decision through the church's online newsletter. "We clearly felt God's spirit leading us in this process," the newsletter read. "We have elected gay and lesbian individuals to serve as deacons, welcomed gay and lesbian members as teachers and leaders throughout the church and have dedicated babies of same sex couples.
"We have not found it necessary to call for a church vote in order to do what we do for other Christ followers," the newsletter continued. "So we do not feel it appropriate to call for a church vote with this issue."
The decision makes Highland the first "Baptist" church to move toward performing same-sex marriages, but it's not the first Protestant congregation in Kentuckiana to do so.
"You can't just stand on the front steps and say it's okay to come in now," said the Rev. Dr. Derek Penwell, senior pastor for Douglass Boulevard Christian Church.
The Disciples of Christ-affiliate opened its doors to the gay, lesbian and transgender communities in 2008. Palm Sunday 2011, its congregation voted to perform marriages for gay couples and to continue performing such services for opposite-sex couples. But Penwell won't sign marriage certificates until Kentucky drops its ban on same-sex unions.
When asked if the church lost members due to the decision he said they lost three, but gain bunches.
The action served as a message that same-sex couples are equal in the eyes of God and as members of the congregation, the Pastor said.
"We talked about it for 14 months (prior to the vote)," Rev. Penwell explained. "We thought it would have a greater impact if the congregation was able to say with one voice this is what we believe. "
Highland Baptist Pastor Joe Phelps and Deacons Chairwoman Kathey Golightly-Sanders declined WAVE 3 News requests for interviews, but late Wednesday afternoon, the Deacons Board issued a written statement.
"The decision appeared in the weekly church newsletter, which was posted on our website as is our custom," the statement reads in part, "They (the Deacons) did not intend it for public information before having a congregational dialogue on how they came to this important decision."
A congregational meeting is set for June 8.