The following article is an English translation of a recent news item in the French newspaper Le Monde, dated 26 July 2021.
This news item records another significant step forward towards the acceptance of the marriage of same-sex couples by the churches. In France all legally recognized marriages are civil marriages; unlike in the UK, churches and other faiths cannot perform marriages, though they can bless the marriages after they have taken place.
It’s 10.30 am at Montpellier and a queue has formed on the pavement outside the Protestant church at Maguelone. At the top of the steps, Emeline Daudé, 33, and Agnès Kaufmann, 31, welcomed their guests and invited them to take a seat on the wooden benches. Their large smiles could be imagined behind their veils. Two days ago, they already said ‘yes’ at the Town Hall. According to [French] law, the United Protestant Church of France (EPUdF) could not marry the couple, but could bless their civil marriage. Emeline Daudé and Agnès Kaufmann were the first lesbian pastors to receive this blessing. “The service will be fairly classic, but all the same with a modern touch”, explained the couple. “We have tried to ‘queer’ it by inserting inclusive touches”. They both dressed in navy blue, rejecting white as a symbol of purity and virginity in Christianity. Emeline chose rainbow buttons for her cuffs. Their fathers did not lead them up the aisle. “We walked up together”, they said happily. For the rest, “we didn’t plan it to be very different from a hetero wedding”.
In front of the altar, two pastors, Marie-Pierre Cournot and Jean-François Breyne, close friends of the two women, began the ceremony. On this occasion, words of love, courage and renunciation had a rather stronger echo than was usual. The couple acknowledge the symbolic importance of the occasion. “We know that others before us have had to fight. We honour them by taking another step along the road”, they said. As they exchanged their vows, everyone stood and applauded loudly. In the congregation, there were believers, but also those who had ‘never set foot in a church’. It included former colleagues from the theology faculty, as well as parishioners, and people they had met through campaigning who had become friends. “Thank you to everyone who has supported us”, said Emeline, very moved.
Stephane Lavignotte is pastor of the ‘Open House’ mission at Montreuil and a member of “Carrefour des chrétiens inclusifs” (Meeting Point for Inclusive Christians). He knows that the journey for LGBTQIA+ candidates to the pastorate has been long. “Some have had to give up their roles or go abroad”, he said regretfully. “The Protestant Church has forced generations of colleagues to live in secret, to live a lie,” deplored Pastor Jean-François Breyne. The EPUdF agreed for the first time in 2004 that homosexuality was neither a sin nor an illness.
Since the synod of Sète (Herault) in 2015, pastors could bless the marriage of same-sex couples. But in reality “Candidates for the pastorate who were openly LGBTQIA+ were not put forward for parishes until 2019”, noted Emanuelle Seyboldt, President of the National Council of the EPUdF, who was present at the ceremony. But things tend to change. “We hope that the blessing of our marriage will allow the Protestant Church to open up further”, said Emeline and Agnès.
For although the Synod of Sète made the marriage of LGBTQIA+ people possible, pastors could reserve the right to refuse a blessing. “The Protestant Church holds varying positions. It is therefore important to allow pastors the option not to bless such marriages if it does not conform to their personal convictions”, claimed the young women.
From his perspective, Jean-Francois Breyne was more outspoken. “Some people have the impression that heterosexuality is that which holds the world together, and that to accept other unions will make the sky fall in …” He hopes that the blessing of this marriage will allow further opening up in the Church for its sisters and cousins.
For LGBTQIA+ parishioners “our inclusion remains very complicated”, said Cyrille de Compiègne, national Vice President of ‘David and Jonathan’, an ecumenical association for LGBTQIA+ Christians and spiritual seekers. “Today we cannot knock on the door of all parishes, since some still reject us. You have to find out by word of mouth where there are ‘safe’ places”, he said. “Society is in the process of evolving, and so is the Church. That takes time”, said Emmanuelle Seyboldt. “I hope that eventually every person will be welcomed everywhere without having to hide who they are”.
Emeline and Agnès are actually trainee pastors, in a two-year probationary period. They will be ordained in one and two years respectively. But their presence has already had an impact in the Protestant community. They regularly receive calls and messages from young LGBTQIA+ people who are on a spiritual journey but are hesitant about joining a theology faculty. “We reassure them that they have a place there”, explains Emeline. The two young women don’t just want to be pastors to LGBTQIA+ people, though. “But when you are part of a minority, it’s reassuring to talk to people who understand you”, they acknowledge.
Emeline entered the faculty in 2014, before the Synod of Sète, and had to face some tough questions when she first thought about becoming a pastor: “I didn’t want to have to leave a part of myself behind at home when I went to church”. Despite that, she knew that her spiritual life and her identity were not incompatible, at least within her parish. Because Emeline and Agnès have travelled a route followed by many young people, they humbly hope to offer a model for them, and accept that they have to model an exemplary way of life “so that we do not give additional arguments to those who oppose the dynamic of change”.
If things do change, some basic adjustments still need to be made. Emeline and Agnès had to modify the marriage register, replacing the ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ boxes with ‘person 1’ and ‘person 2’. The document has been on display in their respective parishes. They have promised to do all they can to ensure that this will be the case everywhere.
The original article, in French, can be found at https://www.lemonde.fr/le-monde-des-religions/article/2021/07/26/l-eglise-protestante-benit-le-premier-mariage-de-pasteures-lesbiennes_6089518_6038514.html. Unfortunately only part of the article is available for free; the rest is behind a paywall. The full French text can be downloaded here.