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Illinois Churches Urge Gay Clergy to Legalize Their Partnerships, Perform Civil Unions

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"We are showing the world that the people of Illinois believe in equality for all."

Church leaders in Illinois are taking the state's new same-sex civil union law to heart. While some denominations are planning to perform homosexual unions, others are encouraging openly-gay clergy to formally legalize their partnerships.

These sweeping developments come as the dust settles on a new law that allows gay couples to enter into unions. When Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill back in January, he proudly exclaimed, "We are showing the world that the people of Illinois believe in equality for all." With the legal debate now settled, the new regulation is beginning to impact Christian denominations.

Here's a report from WLFD-TV that covers Illinois' commencement of same-sex civil unions:

The Chicago Tribune reports that the new law is encouraging church leaders to officiate civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Additionally, Chicago's Episcopal Church is now urging its clergy who find themselves in committed homosexual relationships to make them legal.

Lutherans are following suit, but with some interesting caveats. Clergy are permitted to officiate same-sex civil unions with permission from the bishop, yet they are barred from performing civil unions for straight couples:

The prohibition on civil unions for straight couples upholds the church's teaching on marriage and family, Chicago Lutheran Bishop Wayne Miller said.

"If pastors start performing civil unions, it sets up a very confusing message about whether or not this church still holds marriage as the standard for how a man and a woman enter into a lifelong commitment with one another," Miller said.

Unlike the Episcopal Church, neither the Presbyterian nor the United Church of Christ will require or urge openly-gay clergy in committed relationships to enter into civil unions.

As laws that govern marriage are examined around the nation, all faiths and denominations will be challenged. These latest changes showcase how some Christian leaders will choose to react to new legislative realities. What do you think about these new developments?

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