marriage equity.

6 Jun

Yesterday, at our annual meeting, after much conversation and clarification, the congregation passed the following resolution: “We, the members of First Unitarian Church, request that the minister of First Unitarian Church shall decline to sign Kentucky marriage licenses until such time as Kentucky ceases to discriminate against same sex couples with respect to civil marriage.”

I was thrilled to be able to say “With pleasure.”

Many Unitarian Universalist ministers have already made this decision. Indeed, other liberal religious ministers have as well. If I was so thrilled, why had I not made this decision earlier?

As it sometimes happens, it was the conversation during the meeting that helped me to solidify thoughts and convictions that were murky enough that they had not led me to take a stand. But now I get it. Perhaps I am slow, but I finally get it. Here is what I get:

Marriage in the United States currently has two components: a religious component, and a civil component.

The civil component of marriage is what guarantees the many rights that marriage confers. These rights are granted to a couple when their marriage license is signed and then registered with the state authority.

The religious component of marriage contains the vows, and the “till death do us part” part, and for many couples it is the standing before friends and family and making a public declaration of love and commitment.

The conflation of these two separate components happens because religious authorities (like me) are given the rights to sign the official civil document – the marriage license.

However, these two pieces are not equal. Religious authorities can and should be able to decide whose marriages they honor.  If they don’t want to honor the marriages of divorcees, or gay couples, or without prior marriage counseling, it is their right to do so.  It is also their right to affirmatively choose to honor these (and other) marriages.

Civil marriage, however (the one that grants all sorts of rights and protections), should be between any two consenting adults.  Period.  The state should not discriminate based on a couples sexuality.  Because most states currently do discriminate against gay and lesbian couples, this makes civil marriage an unjust institution.

Because civil marriage is an unjust institution, I will no longer participate in it.  I will still officiate as the religious professional at weddings of whomever I choose (including gay and lesbian couples, which I already do!), but I will no longer participate in the signing of marriage licenses.  This means that I will be providing all couples (gay and straight) the same service: a religious ceremony to celebrate the covenant of marriage.  The legal aspect must be done through the state.

When (and I do believe it is when, not if)  civil marriage is a civil right in Kentucky, I will happily participate in it once again and will sign marriage licenses.  Not until then.

What does this mean for gay and lesbian couples? I already officiate at weddings for gay and lesbian couples.  I don’t call them union ceremonies.  I don’t call them something other than what they are – weddings.

What does this mean for hetero couples?  I will still officiate at weddings – the only part that I will not do is sign the license.  This means that they will have to get a justice of the peace to sign it.  It is a small extra step, and couples can have it done at the same time that they get their marriage licenses – it is not terribly complicated, or expensive.  Certainly it is much easier, and cheaper, than having to drive 1000 miles (which one couple in my congregation had to do to find a state that would honor their marriage).  Or, a hetero couple might choose not to have their licenses signed, and stand with gay & lesbian couples and not participate in civil marriage until it is a civil right.

I am grateful to my church for helping me to clarify my convictions on this subject, and for asking me to take a stand.  As we move forward, our board of trustees will be engaging in research to determine other steps in this direction the congregation might take.  We are hoping to build on the momentum that another local congregation began.  Perhaps others will join the bandwagon.

5 Responses to “marriage equity.”

  1. Jo Ann Dale June 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Thank you. This is eloquent, straightforward, and much appreciated.

  2. Bill Baar June 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Why should government grant any couples any rights with a civil marriage?

    Licensing is discrimination by definition and I’m not quite sure what purpose it servces for Government to license it. Also, note the Rockford diocese has stood down adoptions and placement of kids with parents because they construe Illinois’s civil marriage law as forcing them top place kids with same sex couples. The Chicago diocese says that’s not the case, althought the State House in Springfield voted down a specific amendment to the civil marriage law allowing Churches to continue discriminiating against ss placments.

    Thanks for noting Religous authorities don’t have too, and should not, marry anyone who presents. I had a UU Minister suggest my wife and I not, at least for a while, and some UUs are a bit shocked to find out UU Minister’s don’t perform marriages without some discrimination.

    As for Marriages being “equal”, well, it’s an awful choice of word, for marriages are as unalike as our people, and even the same people at different moments in time. All our marriages our different and none “equal” in any senses really. I think holding out the prospect that a license is going to “affirm” or “include” or “validate” any couple a false notion, and once realized, potentially hurtful.

  3. Leanna Byerley September 8, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    I really enjoyed this. Thank you.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. First Unitarian becomes second Louisville church to support marriage equality – FatLip - June 7, 2011

    […] can read Cooley’s blog post here, which should elicit some kind of outrage from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al […]

  2. Something more articulate than “ugh” (re: state-sanctioned discrimination) | kimbrulée - May 9, 2012

    […] but not sign marriage licenses until same-sex couples are allowed to marry. The pastor’s blog entry about this decision is […]

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