Augustana College Welcomes Same-Sex Ceremonies

Nov 29, 2012

Augustana College will now allow same-gender weddings and "blessings of unions" on campus. President Steven Bahls notified faculty, staff and students of the decision to allow same-sex ceremonies after a recommendation from campus chaplains Richard Priggie and Kristen Glass Perez.

The school, located in Rock Island, Ill., is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which issued its Statement on Sexuality in 2009, leaving decisions on same-sex ceremonies up to individual congregations.

Rev. Priggie tells WNIJ that two gay couples expressed interest in having a ceremony, and that led him to push for the President's approval. The Bishop of the Northern Illinois Synod of the ELCA, based in Rockford, left it up to Bahls to decide whether or not to open the campus to same-sex union ceremonies.

The most prominent venue on campus is Ascension Chapel. Couples wanting to have a ceremony on campus must have some affiliation with Augustana.

Augustana extended health benefits to same-gender couples nine years ago.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation approving civil unions in 2011. The state currently does not allow same-sex marriage. Couples in Illinois can hold ceremonies including "rites of marriage" or "blessings of unions" by a pastor.

Here is the text of President Bahls's letter to the Augustana community:

Dear students, faculty and staff:

Earlier this fall, RichardPriggie and Kristen Glass Perez, our campus chaplains, recommended that the college consent to same-gender weddings on campus. I agreed to do so, and I would like to provide our students, faculty and staff with my reasons.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), to which the college is related, permits same-gender weddings so long as the local congregation consents. Because Augustana is a church-related institution and not a congregation, the Bishop of our Northern Illinois Synod of the ELCA determined that it was up to me as President of the College to provide or not provide consent. I decided to consent.When I came to Augustana10 years ago, I wanted to give meaning to our existing assurance to students and staff that they would not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. To me, it is about integrity. If we say we do not discriminate, our policies and practices should honestly reflect it.

Nine years ago, the college extended our health insurance plans to cover same-gender couples. At about the same time, we affirmed God’s love for all people by becoming one of two “Reconciling in Christ” ELCA colleges. As such, Augustana publicly welcomes gays and lesbians to full participation and leadership in our campus ministries.

One of the Five Faith Commitments articulated by the Augustana College Board of Trustees in May 2005 is that “Augustana College celebrates God’s regard for the worth of all persons,” and the document extends an explicit welcome to “persons of all sexual orientations.” Several of our most faithful faculty and staff, who serve our students exceptionally well, are gay or lesbian. We thank God for their talents and service to Augustana.

Though same-gender marriages are not recognized by all states, including Illinois, both Augustana College and the ELCA will now allow public rites that recognize, support and hold accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. Because it would be inappropriate for the college to dictate to presiding pastors the exact content of these rites, it will be up to presiding pastors and the couples to determine whether to refer to these rites as “marriages,” “blessings of unions,” or something else.

While I understand that reasonable minds within the ELCA currently differ about same-gender weddings, few would dispute that marriage is a beautiful commitment of two children of God to one another. To make a life-long commitment of love and fidelity is an extraordinary act of faith. We need more of those commitments in this broken world, and I am proud of our campus chaplains for bringing this request forward.

Steve Bahls
President of Augustana College