Before she returned to Nebraska a decade ago, Pastor Diana K. Jahn was worried.
She was openly gay, living on the East Coast, and she was moving to Purdum, a Blaine County crossroads of a town in the heart of the Sandhills.
“I’m aware of the attitudes in Nebraska,” she said. “So I talked to my father, and he went and talked to the pastor, and we were assured there would be no problems.”
Jahn became pastor of Purdum’s United Church of Christ a year and a half ago, and she recently joined dozens of clergy across the state promising to perform same-sex marriages if a judge lifts Nebraska’s ban on them.
“It’s a subject that’s very near and dear to my heart,” she said. “And it’s the right thing to do.”
As of Wednesday, 52 clergy members had signed an online proclamation -- #ReadyToMarry -- promoted by the interfaith Heartland Clergy of Inclusion.
The group’s statement reads, in part: “As faith leaders and Nebraskans, we believe in loving our neighbors and treating one another as we would like to be treated -- with dignity and respect. This means recognizing the love and commitment of lesbian and gay couples through marriage.”
Seven couples have sued the state, asking a federal judge to overturn Nebraska’s ban on same-sex marriages. The judge listened to arguments last week on why he should -- and shouldn’t -- lift it immediately, accepted final legal briefs Tuesday and is expected to rule shortly.
The Heartland Clergy of Inclusion launched its campaign earlier this month, in preparation of the decision.
“I signed it because I believe that every person has fundamental basic rights, and the right to marry a person they love is one of those rights,” said Rabbi Craig Lewis of Lincoln’s South Street Temple.
Lewis can never speak for every member of his congregation, he said. And he signed the petition and has supported LGBT rights as himself, not as the voice of his temple.
“But I know I have the support of my congregation on this issue. We’re supportive of being a very inclusive place, and have been supportive of gay marriage.”
In Omaha, Augustana Lutheran has long been a progressive church, becoming a Reconciling in Christ Congregation in 2004. And its members decided several years ago they supported same-gender marriage.
“We intentionally welcome all people, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation -- whatever that may be,” said the Rev. Jan Peterson.
Still, Peterson met with her church council before signing the Ready to Marry petition. The meeting didn’t last long.
“It was unanimous,” she said. “No discussion really at all.”
She’s aware that hers is just one of two Lutheran churches, so far, on the list. But she doesn’t think she’s alone in her support.
“Just because there aren’t other people signing it doesn’t mean there are not other Lutheran pastors who agree.”
Most of those making the pledge are pastors with the United Church of Christ, but the list also includes a few Methodists, two rabbis and a Wiccan. Most are from Lincoln and Omaha, but churches in Grand Island, North Platte, Columbus, Scottsbluff and Elgin are represented.
And so is a small country church in Purdum.
Pastor Jahn was born and raised in Falls City but spent much of her adult life in the East. She was living in Maine -- and working to help overturn that state’s same-sex marriage ban -- when she moved to Blaine County to be closer to her stepfather and his new wife.
Despite her early concerns, she and her partner of 22 years, Agatha Forsyth, felt welcome in the Sandhills.
“There have been no problems at all,” Jahn said. “We don’t go around with signs on our backs, but at the same time I don’t live in the closet anymore.”
Her church has 10, maybe 20, members. She’s talked with them about LGBT issues, she said, and they’ve supported her.
But if same-sex marriage becomes legal in Nebraska, she would meet with them again. She and Forsyth would get married in their small country church, and the pastor wants her congregation’s blessing.
“I would talk to them about it to make sure, and I know there would be no problems. I know they would be there to support us.”