It’s been about a dozen years since I officiated at a wedding. That’s quite a long time for a minister who has served as a local church pastor to go without performing a wedding ceremony. But that was my decision. Let me explain.
Shortly after serving as the officiant for the wedding of the daughter of one my colleagues, I decided that I could no longer represent the interests of the state in legal marriage. At that time, no jurisdiction in the United States provided for marriage equality. My decision was to no longer support the laws that discriminated against gay and lesbian people in marriage, so I would not act on behalf of the state and perform legal marriages.
Any time a couple approached me about a wedding, I was clear: I was willing to work with them in pre-marital counseling and lead a religious service of commitment. But I would not sign a marriage license. They’d have to go to someone else for assistance for legal validation of their marriage.
Over my career, I participated in many religious ceremonies blessing lesbian and gay couples. My first was in 1985: a garden wedding lavishly decorated with pink and white lace on wrought iron for two women. I performed many other “gay weddings” over the years in churches, on beaches, in hotel ball rooms, and in homes. Some of those weddings were inter-religious events where I joined rabbi’s and Buddhist monks in leading the ceremonies. But none were legally recognized.
Over the same time period, I performed many other weddings as well. But it bothered me that while the ceremonies and vows were all essentially the same, while the commitments couples made were equally sincere, the state chose to approve one and not the other. Yet, as a Christian minister, I knew that all the marriage commitments made were equally sacramental in their nature. God was with those couples in their commitments and no one could change that.
When living in Arizona, I realized that I simply didn’t need to sign a marriage license if I chose not to do so. The realization came to me in an unexpected way. When serving as pastor of a church in Tucson, I became aware of senior couples living together who I thought were married but weren’t. Their social security benefits and pensions were barely enough to live on. If they were legally married, their retirement benefits would be reduced leaving them without sufficient resources. I offered to perform a religious wedding ceremony for them without a marriage license. After all, there was no reason to not honor these relationships and pray God’s blessing on them. But the relationships didn’t need to be legally recognized.
In the case of the elders who shared their lives in a loving commitment, it seemed to me to discriminate against them by imposing a financial penalty for their love and commitment. It then occurred to me that I didn’t need to participate in the discrimination of gay and lesbian couples by signing marriage licenses for heterosexual couples and not for gay couples. Instead, I would be an equal opportunity officiant: I would no longer sign a marriage license until all couples had the right to legally marry.
Now I cross a new thresh hold: a gay male couple I’ve known for many years had a destination wedding in the State of New York. New York recognized marriage equality. When invited to officiate at the ceremony, I agreed. As a minister, it will be my first wedding in a dozen years – and my first legal wedding for a gay male couple.
I know that I am just one minister. But over the years, I’ve know many other clergy who have made similar decisions to mine: we won’t actively participate in the fundamental injustice of inequality. While many religious leaders receive an inordinate level of media attention for opposing marriage equality, there are those of us who for ten, twenty, and even thirty years have done what we could to make a way for all couples to celebrate their love.
I look forward to the day when marriage equality is recognized throughout the United States and other countries as well. In the meantime, I won’t participate in discrimination by acting as an agent of a state which does not afford marriage equality to all couples. For me, it’s an important act of faith.
© 2013, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.