(WXTX) - Reverend Emily Bel is the pastor of Forgiving Heart Christian Community Church in Columbus, Ga. She has been a pastor for nearly 25 years, and she is gay.
"My partner and I have been together for 18 years," said Rev. Bel. "We had a commitment ceremony 12 years ago, but it's not a legal ceremony, because in the state of Georgia, it's not legal."
In a recent Gallup poll, 52 percent of Americans say they would vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, while 43 percent would vote against it.
"To deny us marriage is to call us second class citizens," said Rev. Bel.
The idea of allowing two people of the same gender to enter into the institution of marriage has brought out drastic emotions and reactions from many different groups. Those who engage in the debate believe strongly in their convictions, including a group of pastors in the Columbus area.
I sat down with them for a frank discussion, led by Rev. Roderick Green of First African Baptist Church.
"It is simply stating the biblical principle that marriage is between one woman one man," said Rev. Green. "It is for the procreation of life. And so we want to be nurturing in our position, but understand that we would not be open to performing any same-sex unions."
"My not endorsing same-sex marriage or same-sex unions does not mean I'm against the persons," explained Rev. Marcus Gibson of Greater Shady Grove Baptist Church. "It's the lifestyle that we cannot endorse."
And that lifestyle is the subject of Duke University's latest National Congregations Study. The study says 31 percent of members of US congregations are openly gay or lesbian.
That's the case with Refuge Church of Jesus Christ in Columbus where 70 percent of the members are gay. Senior Pastor Colley Williams, a gay minister, knows firsthand the difficulty of being gay and a follower of Christ.
"I got removed from two locally Southern Baptist churches for being gay," said Pastor Williams. "They told me it was an abomination and I was going to hell and that God didn't love me."
So in 2001, he and his partner Danny started their church. Pastor Williams has no problem performing same-sex unions.
"If you read all through the New Testament he didn't say one word about homosexuality, not one," explained Pastor Williams. "But he did about adultery and other things, but he didn't say one thing about homosexuality itself."
As with Pastor Williams, I asked Pastor Bel where in the Bible does it say homosexuality is okay?
"It doesn't but it also doesn't say it's a sin, okay," said Pastor Bel. "I think that's been twisted up."
There are varying opinions about what the Bible actually says about homosexuality which boils down to interpretation of what the scriptures say.
Rev. Emmett Aniton of Friendship Baptist Church says in the book of Leviticus 18:22 homosexuality is abomination. In other words, a sin.
"He says a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman and woman should not be with another woman as with a man," said Rev. Aniton. "It speaks distinctly and clearly about that."
Pastor Williams disagrees. "The word abomination didn't actually mean sin. It actually was a Hebrew word that meant unclean just as eating shellfish or breaking the Sabbath," he says.
Rev. Lacoya Day of Friendship Baptist in Hamilton cites the book of Genesis Chapter 2 as to why he will not perform same-sex unions.
"That a man leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife," said Rev. Day. "And I believe cleave is attach so when you talk about forming unions I would not perform a union I'd have to perform a marriage therefore a marriage must be between a male and a female."
Continuing with Genesis in 1:28, Rev. Bruce Alford of Blessed Assurance Baptist Church says homosexuality goes against the natural order of life.
"You cannot be fruitful and multiply two ladies together, how can you make a baby?" asked Rev. Alford. "Two men together, how can they make a baby? It's only through a man and a woman that the earth can multiply."
Rev. Gibson agrees and says, "Anything that goes against what God has already planned according to the scriptures from our positions as Christians is wrong."
Pastor Bel sees it differently. "I do not believe God cares who you love but that you love," she says.
"Jesus preached love. He preached acceptance to all people," said Pastor Williams. "He reached out to the poor, the sinners and that's what we need to be doing. He loves all people and he accepted them all."
These ministers I spoke with say they welcome all people into their congregations too. They just will not marry same-sex couples.
Aas Rev. Greens says, "Anyone that comes to First African or any of our churches will be received as a child that needs a home. And we will embrace them. And we will love them. I would not endorse the union but I can't tell them who they cannot love."
According to Rev. Alford, "God loves all of us but he wants us to do right."
And when it comes to same-sex unions, whatever "right" is, is still up for debate.