Originally Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2012, 9:01 pm
Last Updated: Nov. 29, 2012, 12:20 pm

Augustana to allow civil union ceremonies

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By Anthony Watt, awatt@qconline.com

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Photo: Stephanie Makosky/file photo
Old Main on the campus of Augustana College in Rock Island.

Augustana College will allow ceremonies on campus to recognize "lifelong, monogamous" gay and lesbian couples.

Augustana president Steven Bahls announced the decision on Monday in a mass email to the campus community.

"The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to which the college is related, permits same-gender weddings so long as the local congregation consents," he said in the email.

"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," he said.

"When I came to Augustana 10 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," he continued. "To me, it is about integrity. If we say we do not discriminate, our policies and practices should honestly reflect it."

The announcement acknowledges Illinois does not recognize same-sex marriages but the college will allow "public rites that recognize, support and hold accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

The content of the rites and how they are named will be left to the pastors and couples involved in the ceremonies, the email states.

The college already provides health insurance coverage to same-gender couples and openly accepts the participation of gay people in its campus ministries.

"Several of our most faithful faculty and staff, who serve our students exceptionally well, are gay or lesbian," president Bahls said in the email. "We thank God for their talents and service to Augustana."

Augustana College Chaplain Richard Priggie said the college's response was prompted by requests from two same-sex couples to use Ascension Chapel for union ceremonies. Both couples have ties to the college.

So far, those are the only same-sex couples who have requested the use of Augustana's facilities, Chaplain Priggie said. The ceremonies for both couples will be in the spring.

He said the chapel is traditionally available for Augustana students, alumni, faculty, staff and the children of faculty and staff for services.