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Some Minnesota pastors say decision still to come on same-sex marriage ceremonies

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- The Rev. Mark Asleson knows it's just a matter of time before a gay or lesbian couple in his congregation asks if he'll marry them at his parish, Dilworth Lutheran Church.

Like many other religious institutions in the area, Asleson is wrestling with the issue just days after Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

Under the bill, gay marriages could begin Aug. 1.

In Moorhead, First Congregational United Church of Christ has already announced it will perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. That church helped fight against a failed constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would have banned same-sex marriages.

Others are sure to take the approach Asleson is planning: discussing the issue with his congregation.

"Churches have been blessing people for centuries. The question gets to be ... how do we not bless those people too?" he asked.

"I'm not saying it's an easy question," he added, "but it's part of the dilemma I face. That's my wrestling match."

At Bethesda Lutheran Church in Moorhead, the Rev. Gary Mikkelson, too, said it's a conversation he needs to have with members of his church.

"Each congregation has some sense of responsibility in responding to this open door," Mikkelson said.

The head of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said he will go to churches in the synod to help start those conversations. The ELCA neither endorses nor prohibits blessing same-sex marriage.

"We'll be pointing out where I think those policies provide some freedom for congregations to respond to requests for marriage," Bishop Larry Wohlrabe said.

The Diocese of Crookston, which oversees Catholic churches throughout northwestern Minnesota, circulated a letter to its members in which Bishop Michael Hoeppner expressed his disappointment with the "unwise, unjust and dangerous action taken by our elected politicians" in passing the new law.

Minnesota's new law specifically protects religious institutions that choose not to marry same-sex couples.