Rev. Rob Apgar-Taylor of Grace United Church of Christ in Frederick, Md., was an unlikely same-sex marriage advocate to some who gathered alongside him at the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26.
The gay pastor who married his husband in Massachusetts in June 2004 received a number of questions from LGBT rights activists, journalists and passersby about whether he was “for us or against us” as they waited for the justices to issue their decisions in the two cases that challenged a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in the state. Apgar-Taylor told the Washington Blade he hoped their rulings would be “bold.”
“I hope that they’re willing to take a stand in this issue,” he said.
His wish came true less than an hour later when the justices announced their decisions that found DOMA unconstitutional and struck down Prop 8.
“They did the right thing,” Apgar-Taylor told the Blade in a follow-up interview. “They were able to work on the side of justice and on the side of compassion for families who need it the most.”
Born and raised in New York’s Hudson Valley, Apgar-Taylor said he wanted to become a pastor for as long as he could remember.
“I was three years old and when all the other little kids wanted to be policemen and firemen and cowboys and Indians, I wanted to be a minister,” he said. “It’s just always been there.”
Apgar-Taylor became a pastor in Pennsylvania after he received his master’s of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary in D.C. and his doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary.
He and his now ex-wife to whom he was married for 20 years had five children.
They divorced after Apgar-Taylor came out to her in the early 2000s, but they remain “good friends.”
Apgar-Taylor met his future spouse, Rob Apgar, at a Harrisburg, Pa., karaoke bar shortly after his divorce.
“We started talking to each other and we were singing karaoke,” he recalled. “By the end of the evening about four hours afterwards we exchanged phone numbers. And the next day we got together for dinner and had our first date.”
The couple tied the knot in Cambridge, Mass., on June 13, 2004 — a month after Massachusetts’ same-sex marriage law took effect after the state’s Supreme Judicial Court’s landmark 2003 decision that struck down the commonwealth’s ban on gay nuptials took effect — while Apgar-Taylor took a summer course at the Episcopal Divinity School.
“There’s something sacred in the nature of marriage,” he said. “It’s about covenant; it’s about choosing to be in someone’s corner whether it feels good or not. It’s about loving someone whether or not you feel loving or whether they even act loving.”
Apgar-Taylor, who is also a pastor at Veritas United Church of Christ in Hagerstown, Md., in February became the first openly gay minister of a mainline Protestant church in western Maryland when Grace United Church of Christ installed him.
The Frederick congregation in the spring of 2012 became the first mainline church in the area to host a same-sex wedding when a gay couple that married in D.C. renewed their vows during a ceremony that Apgar-Taylor officiated. Grace United Church of Christ also served as the headquarters for the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ’s efforts in support of the referendum on Maryland’s same-sex marriage law that voters approved last November.
Apgar-Taylor said he has received what he described as hate mail from the Army of God, a group that advocates for violence against abortion providers and gays. A same-sex marriage opponent outside the Supreme Court described him as “a disgrace” and said he “was going to hell” before the justices issued their DOMA and Prop 8 rulings.
“That’s what you’re going to get when you’re in my line of work,” Apgar-Taylor said, while noting the majority of people whom he meets are what he described as supportive. “You’re going to have enemies on the conservative Christian side.”
As he discussed the Supreme Court decisions with the Blade, Apgar-Taylor referenced a person he knows whom he said was unable to make end of life decisions for his partner and receive “all the rights we should have as married couples.”
“It’s degrading and dehumanizing to tell somebody you could spend 16, 18, 20 years loving someone and sharing your life with them, but at the moment at your life at your life when you’re the most devastated [say] sorry you were just a friend,” he said. “It’s humiliating to devalue someone’s relationship that way.”
Apgar-Taylor described the Supreme Court rulings as “incredibly important” for him and his husband on a both a legal and a financial level. He told the Blade he went to bed after the justices issued their decisions knowing that they were protected “for the first time in my marriage.”
“There’s nothing anyone can do to come in and tell me that I can’t make end of life decisions for him and make sure his wishes are known,” Apgar-Taylor said. “There’s nothing anybody can do to come in and take away stuff that we have earned and gotten together. There’s nothing anybody can do to come in and tell him that I was not his husband, that we were legal strangers. That’s incredibly important.”