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 Contents: UU World Back Issue

UU clergy won't sign licenses

A movement begun by several Unitarian Universalist ministers to decline to sign marriage certificates for heterosexual couples, thus drawing attention to the fact that no states permit same-sex couples to marry, is spreading to other faiths.

As of March a dozen Unitarian Universalist ministers, including UUA President the Rev. William G. Sinkford, had publicly declared their intention to not sign marriage certificates.

In addition, the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, a forty-member Massachusetts interfaith group that supports same-sex marriage, has endorsed a pledge to not sign marriage licenses and has distributed the pledge to its member clergy.

The movement was inspired in part by an article in a journal for ministers written in 2000 by the Rev. David Pettee, when he was a community minister in California. "I came to the awareness that the willingness of clergy to assist with legalizing marriage ceremonies carries grave repercussions," he wrote. "The seemingly neutral act of signing a marriage license actually represents a silent collusion with the state's position to extend the many privileges and benefits of marriage to only certain couples—heterosexual couples."

So Pettee decided not to sign marriage certificates. That was five years ago. The Rev. Margot Campbell Gross, co-minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, also has not signed a license for five years. "It just came to me that I was participating in societal discrimination," she says. "I decided that was wrong."

The next minister to publicly take up the cause was the Rev. Rhett Baird, of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fayetteville, Arkansas. "I cannot be an agent of a state that says love between two people is not valid," he says, "just because the state objects to the sex of one of the partners."

Other Unitarian Universalist ministers taking the pledge include the Rev. Fred Small of Littleton, Massachusetts; the Rev. Dr. F. Jay Deacon of Northhampton, Massachusetts; and the Rev. Meg Riley, director of the UUA's Advocacy and Witness Staff Group.

Small believes the no-sign pledge should appeal to many non-Unitarian Universalist ministers. "It seems to me to be a pure religious position for a minister to say, 'I will marry people before God, but their business with the state is up to them.' "

The refusal by ministers to sign means that heterosexual couples must pay a few dollars to have the license signed by a justice of the peace or other public official. Small notes that for that fee they gain more than 1,000 legal rights not available to same-sex couples.

 Contents: UU World Back Issue

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