The former Lebanon, Pa., Methodist minister who was defrocked for officiating at his gay son's wedding and later reinstated says the issue does not seem as contentious in Pennsylvania now that gay marriage is legal in the state.
Frank Schaefer, who became a national symbol for church reform on the issue, returned to the state Saturday to host an inclusivity conference at a Montgomery County church.
"When the legislation changes, it changes people and attitudes," Schaefer said. He said that since gay marriage became legal in Pennsylvania, he had not seen protests when he speaks here, as he had in the past.
Now a minister at a small United Methodist Church in Isla Vista, Calif., Schaefer said Pennsylvania was leading a shift for inclusivity of gays and lesbians within religious communities. Pennsylvania became the last state in the Northeast to allow same-sex marriages when a federal judge last May struck down the state's 1996 ban.
Schaefer recalled, at times tearfully, being stripped of his rural Pennsylvania ministry in 2013, six years after he presided over the wedding of his gay son, Timothy. The ceremony was in Massachusetts, where gay marriage has been legal since 2004.
On appeal, Schaefer was reinstated to the clergy in 2014.
He said the United Methodist Church, which does not ordain openly gay ministers or allow gay marriage, was similar to other churches in that a "culture of fear prevents discussion."
Gloria Dei Church in Huntingdon Valley is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which began ordaining gay ministers in 2009. The lead pastor at Gloria Dei, the Rev. Sharon Graff, officiated at same-sex marriages in California before coming to Gloria Dei in 2013.
Gloria Dei's 300 to 400 Sunday worshipers have been served by two openly gay ministers.
In planning for the event, Graff said she reached out to several area schools, universities, and churches but none responded with interest to cosponsor the event, which drew around 80 participants.
"The reaction is just silence," said Graff, who has a gay son. "The silence has been disappointing but, honestly, not surprising."
The United Methodist Church conference in California where Schaefer is a minister does not prosecute those who break church law and officiate at same-sex weddings, Schaefer said.
"It's quite different. It's a very progressive conference," he said.
Schaefer said he had performed two additional same-sex marriages, including a second wedding for his son, who got divorced while Schaefer was on church trial for officiating at the marriage. He added that he was scheduled to perform several more same-sex weddings this year.
"It seems like that's all I'm doing," Schaefer laughed.