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September 22, 2014

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After Iowa ruling, LV churches take differing views on gay marriage

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Richard Brian

Charlotte Morgan, left, and Julie Liebo, who have been together 19 years, were married in Long Beach, Calif., last year by Las Vegas Pastor Dave Krueger-Duncan, of the Northwest Community Church, before voters closed the door to same sex marriages in November.

An Open Church

Pastor Dave Krueger-Duncan, of the Northwest Commnuity Church, married Julie Liebo and Charlotte Morgan in California last year before voters closed the door to same-sex marriages in November. Launch slideshow »

The Rev. Dave Krueger-Duncan has performed one legal marriage in the seven years he has been a religious leader in Las Vegas.

That was on July 18, 2008, for Julie Liebo and Charlotte Morgan, members of his Northwest Community Church.

The Christian congregation is “open and affirming” to gay and lesbian couples. Morgan said that means “our church is way beyond acceptance. There is no separation between our family and (a heterosexual family). There is simply not a difference.”

It’s hard to find that in any church in America, Liebo said, but they found it in Las Vegas, though they had to get legally married in California.

“I pray for the day when I can do legal weddings here in Las Vegas for gay and lesbian couples as well as straight couples,” Krueger-Duncan said. “Until that day comes, what I can’t do for one I’m disinclined to do for the other.”

That day came, briefly.

Krueger-Duncan married Liebo and Morgan in Long Beach, Calif., after the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages last year. The couple played John Lennon’s “Imagine” during the ceremony.

Many local couples crossed the border to make their relationships legal. That window closed in November, when California voters passed Proposition 8, limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. About 18,000 same-sex marriages were validated in California before then, and they still have the same legal rights there.

Richard Ziser, chairman of the advocacy group Nevada Concerned Citizens, supported Prop 8 in California. He’s also opposed to recent state legislation, introduced by Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, that would give domestic partners the same rights as spouses.

Gay marriage continues to be a national issue. On Friday, Iowa became the first state in the Midwest to approve same-sex marriage. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously declared a 1998 law limiting marriage to a man and a woman as unconstitutional.

Nevada’s constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, an amendment that was spearheaded by Ziser’s organization in 2002.

“Once it (gay marriage) is recognized, it opens the doors for teaching about those relationships in public schools,” Ziser said.

He said that leads to children being taught in schools that same-sex marriage is equal under the eyes of God to a heterosexual marriage.

“And we believe otherwise,” Ziser said, referring to those in his organization and some Christians.

In Krueger-Duncan’s mind, and that of his congregation, God’s plan for marriage is between two people who are in love and committed to each other.

“We don’t believe that God sorts on sexual orientation. Therefore, about a third of our membership is gay or lesbian,” he said.

At 9 a.m. Sunday, about 100 people can be found at his church in east Las Vegas. The sermon sounds familiar. It’s about loving and caring for neighbors, or avoiding pride and greed.

There will be coffee and donuts before, during and after the service. But visitors will find straight and gay couples comfortably relaxing together in the pews, linking arms and holding children. They are young and old. They are of different races and religious backgrounds.

Liebo was Jewish. She felt isolated in her faith. Morgan was baptized in the Lutheran church. She felt unwelcome as a lesbian.

They marched for gay rights while living in Minneapolis, at the genesis of the national movement in 1978. Harvey Milk was making news across the country as the first openly gay man elected to a substantial political position in San Francisco. Liebo and Morgan read stories about the AIDS outbreak, referred to by some then as “gay cancer.” They socialized in an underground cafe that had an armed guard posted at the door.

Gay rights have often been virulently opposed by some people of faith, said the Rev. David Gillentine, associate pastor of Metropolitan Community Church, which serves the gay and lesbian community.

But many gay people still want faith, he said. These spiritual people will find their way to congregations that hold different biblical interpretations of homosexual relationships.

The local Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada refers clients to these churches, said Executive Director Candice Nichols. Often these open churches participate in gay-rights events, such as the upcoming Equality Day events on April 21 and 22.

Gillentine has challenged conservative Christians on the historical and cultural context of the verses they say condemn homosexual unions. Often, they don’t change their mind, he said.

“But we have made some headway,” Gillentine said. “Even when they say ‘love the sinner, hate the sin,’ that’s some progress. But I don’t believe I am in a sin, because I’m in a loving relationship with my partner.”

Gillentine estimated there are about five Christian congregations in Las Vegas that formally accept homosexual couples, and many more are tolerant.

All are welcome at Calvary Chapel Spring Valley to hear the word of God, receive Christ as their savior and experience his life transforming work, said Senior Pastor Derek Neider.

But he’s clear that God’s work includes transforming people from homosexuality.

Calvary Chapel of Las Vegas supported Prop 8 in California. The church is known for its line-by-line exposition and study of the Bible.

“The core of our church is the word of God for every issue,” he said. “We use the Bible to direct and enlighten. And the Bible is clear that the marriage relationship is between a man and a woman.”

Northwest Community Church, where Liebo and Morgan attend, recently moved from the Summerlin area to join its sister congregation, First Congregational Church at 1200 N. Eastern Ave. It celebrated a Palm Sunday grand-opening service on April 5.

“There is a strong strain of interest in social justice issues, anti-poverty, anti-racism and anti-sexism,” said the Rev. Dave Pomeroy about First Congregational, which is part of the United Church of Christ. It has 7,000 independent congregations nationwide.

He said about 10 percent of the United Church of Christ congregations have voted to include gay and lesbian couples, which is what his congregation did last year. Others haven’t taken that official step, but are accepting.

And it was this liberal tradition that brought Liebo and Morgan back to church. Partners for 18 years, they wanted their children to have a faith.

Morgan, a family practice doctor, and Liebo, an administrator at a nursing home in North Las Vegas, adopted two children from China. That process put Liebo back in the closet. Morgan had to do the international adoption as a single parent, because the laws were stacked against same-sex partners. Since then, they’ve re-adopted the girls so that both of their names appear on the birth certificates.

Andé, 10, and Alex, 8, were with their mothers when they got their marriage certificate in Los Angeles.

Liebo said it was the most memorable day in her life. For the first time, her family was affirmed by God and by the government.

“It’s documented,” she said, while gazing at Morgan. “This is the love of my life and has been and for as long as I can remember.”

Liebo said she believes that if any Christian were to sit next to her family in church, they would have a hard time denying their marriage and their love.

Neider said he understands Liebo, but homosexuality is a sin, as it’s a sin for a heterosexual couple to be living together outside of marriage.

“In our church we want everyone to come,” Neider said. “Our door is open. No one is excluded. But the word of God is the authority. Even though it may hurt people’s feelings, God has clearly expressed his position on homosexuality. Even if someone is your friend. Those friendships don’t overrule God’s position.”

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