“Most women at the start of our premarital counseling group were like, ‘What?’” Mr. Evans said of the idea of not being the sole bride. “But as we got into the class, we got to know each other intimately. The gloves came off. And being able to share the wedding together made it really special.”
To date, no same-sex couples have volunteered for the challenge. If they did, Mr. Carter said, he would refer them to a different church to be married. Though Concord welcomes the L.G.B.T.Q. community, he said, “our church believes in more traditional model of marriage.”
This is one reason some religious leaders are not so enthusiastic about Mr. Carter’s program. “Research bears the pastor out that stable marriages do support better mental health and stability in children,” said Janne Eller-Isaacs, a senior co-pastor at Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul, Minn. “My bias is that I don’t want to be promoting an old-style, patriarchal marriage. As someone who has married lesbians, gays and transgendered folks, making the ritual of marriage available to all people is extremely important to me.”
Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz, the senior pastor at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, N.J., also has mixed feelings about the marriage challenge. “I’m not going to reject it out of hand, because the pastor respects God and community and may believe he’s saving the world in this way,” he said. “I’ve learned enough to know that cohabitation has helped a lot of people, and I lose all capital to be able to talk to people about what makes the most sacred and loving connections if I’m just reminding them of what they thought religion always was, meaning hierarchical and judgmental and not in touch with what’s going on in the world.”
Rabbi Gewirtz also wonders if the church’s resources might be better spent feeding the hungry or housing the homeless. “But that’s just a different point of view,” he said.
It is a view Mr. Carter is familiar with. His Twitter announcement of this year’s challenge reached 300,000 people, he said, and most feedback was positive. “But we had a few detractors who said, ‘Why would the church be concerned about someone’s relationship? Couldn’t it do more with that money to feed people?’” he said.