Thursday, March 27, 2014

Signing Licenses: My Pledge

Over a decade ago, I decided I wasn't going to be an instrument of the state anymore if the state continued to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.  I talked to my congregation and the board of trustees about it and then, in October 2003, I took a public vow not to sign any more marriage licenses until the Commonwealth of Massachusetts allowed same-sex marriage.  I was one of about a dozen clergy who had done so, one of whom was the Rev. Fred Small, author of the beloved song "Everything Possible."  After hearing Fred Small talk about his decision and his reasoning, my mind was made up.  I cried when I heard him, because he had given name and voice to what I had been feeling, and had reached a solution that removed him from the wrong equation.  I knew I had to do likewise.


A year and a half later, in May of 2004, same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts.  I performed a few weddings that spring and happily signed licenses for all, and then, that summer I moved to Michigan.  A few months later, in November of 2004, we passed our constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage.  I didn't take the same vow in Michigan as I had in Massachusetts.  In Massachusetts, it felt like it was part of a building momentum towards changing things.  Here, it felt like it would be futile, so I went ahead and signed.  But with every license I signed, I felt like I was doing something wrong.  For ten years I've ministered in this state and signed licenses in this state, knowing that it felt wrong each time.

There are 1138 benefits at the federal level alone that go along with marriage.  There are benefits at the state level, as well.  My friend Shelly explained on Facebook this week that if her wife were to die, Shelly would have to pay taxes on the house that they both own.  Those taxes would be enough that she would likely lose her home.  Her wife would have to do likewise if Shelly were to die.  And her wife would have no legal claim over the son they've raised together.  Shelly's story is just one of thousands in our state.

Finally, after almost a decade since it became legal in Massachusetts and banned in the constitution here, we had a brief window last weekend where we were able to perform legally-recognized same-sex weddings in Michigan.  Those marriages are now on hold, with our governor saying he won't recognize these legally-performed weddings until the appeal process is finished.

Having signed the marriage licenses on Saturday for two same-sex couples -- Michael and Adam, and Shirley and Shirley -- I don't think I can go back to signing just licenses for opposite-sex couples. 
I realized this just as I was typing this.  I wasn't planning on writing this today.  But if these marriages are on hold, so am I.  Until all the marriages that I perform are recognized by the State of Michigan, the State of Michigan is no longer part of my role as minister.  I will officiate at weddings, but until I can sign licenses again for same-sex couples in Michigan, I'm not signing any licenses in Michigan and will only sign licenses in states which recognize same-sex marriage, from this point forward. 

I owe that to Michael and Adam, and to Shirley and Shirley.  I can do no less.  Their weddings are no less real and their marriages no less valid than any other I have ever performed.

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