To date, legal marriage is offered in Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, South Africa, and three American states (Massachusetts, california, and Connecticut).
These are the only governments that allow same-sex couples the freedom to legally marry. No other country provides, under any other name, same-sex couples the same range of protections, responsibilities, and benefits that come with civil marriage.
The U.S. government — through the so-called “DoMA” law — and 37 American states have made laws specifically stating that they would not recognize a legal marriage license obtained by same-sex couples.
[See our article: Legislative Reactions to Suits for Same-Sex Marriage]
Although marriage contracts are governed by state law, the federal government uses marital status as the qualification for more than 1,138 federally regulated rights and responsibilities.
[Please see our article: U.S. Laws for Married]
An opposite-sex couples can be legally married only with a license. Both same-and opposite-sex couples can get a marriage ceremony in a church or temple. However, it is only with the signing of a license that a marriage is considered to be a legal one.
While legal marriage is a civil — not a religious — event, clergy are allowed by law to “officiate” a ceremony. That is, they are among those empowered to oversee the signing of the state legal document known as a marriage license.
Because of the injustice toward same-sex couples, some ministers are mad as heck, and they’re not going to take it anymore.
The reverends who have taken a stand include:
Rhett D. Baird - Macon, Georgia (formerly in Fayetteville, Arkansas)
Participating clergy belong to the Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, American Catholic, Presbyterian, and Reformed Jewish.
Fred Small - Littleton, Massachussetts
F. Jay Deacon - Florence, Massachussetts
William Sinkrord - Boston, Massachusetts
John Beuhrens - Needham, Massachusetts
Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum - Gardner, Massachusetts
Kathleen McTigue - New Haven, Connecticut
Shannon Clarkson - Guilford, Connecticut
Lettie Russell - Guilford, Connecticut
Maureen Gilbert-Hebert - New Haven, Connecticut
Ann Higgins - New Haven, Connecticut
Allie Perry - New Haven, Connecticut
Victoria Safford - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Todd Eklof - Louisville, Kentucky
David Ensign - Arlington, Virginia
Booker-Hirsch - Ann Arbor, Michigan
Joe Hoffman - Asheville, North Carolina
Mark Ward - Asheville, North Carolina
Don Portwood - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Sarah Campbell - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Franklyn J. Bergen - Tucson, Arizona
Click on the names below to read about the action that many of these ministers have taken:
Rev. Rhett D. Baird
The Rev. Rhett D. Baird, the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fayetteville, Arkansas declared, that, from July 1, 2002 and for a full year, he will not sign marriage licenses for opposite-sex couples because the state does not grant that right to same-sex couples.|
“I see love between individuals as the primary source of inner peace in our world. In these troubled times, it’s hard enough to find anyone to love. I’m just trying to live out my authentic lifestyle and follow the values that shape my life.”
Rev. Baird holds that love between two individuals cannot be defined by their biological sex, and his personal convictions have led him to take a stand against marital injustice.
Baird issued a manifesto [Please see: A Personal Proclamation], on March 24, 2002, that he calls “a thoughtfully considered private act of conscience” and “a symbolic gesture of values” to clarify the meaning of his self-imposed moratorium.
Response to his proclamation has run in favor about 50-to-1. However, in the 10 months after he issued his proclamation, Baird was criticized by several evangelical ministers. And he is under no illusion that his stance will suddenly steer Arkansas lawmakers into legalizing same-sex marriage. Instead, he says his manifesto is a personal decision designed to reflect the views of his ministry.
Baird is a leading member of the clergy and the community as well as of Northwest Arkansas in general. He is a past president of the Fayetteville Ministerial Association and of the Council of Religious Organizations at the University of Arkansas.
He has devoted himself to many causes, including employment, homelessness, rape, as well as to the local chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, for which he was a publicity coordinator, and the Fayetteville branch of the Arkansas Equality Network.
As a part of a local peace and justice group, Rev. Baird creates five-minute television spots on the subject of war and peace. He is on the steering committee that plans the interfaith World AIDS Day Service in Fayetteville every December. He is involved with many groups including the Rotary Club and the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Baird has been in an opposite-sex marriage for 41 years, and is the father of three adult daughters. He left a lucrative business career at 49 to join the ministry. He has been the minister of his Fayetteville congregation for eight years.
An Atlanta native, Baird moved to Fayetteville in 1994 after graduating with honors from the Candler School of Theology of Emory University in 1993. His ordination came after a 13-year stint as a country circuit-riding lay minister, serving five small Unitarian Universalist churches in South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia.
Although not signing marriage licenses until the moratorium ended in July 2003, Baird was available for ceremonial weddings for opposite-sex couples, and services of union for same-sex couples. His stance on same-sex marriage, he points out, adheres to a longstanding tradition of acceptance of gay men and lesbians in the Unitarian Universalist Church.
“I had prepared and delivered a series of messages based upon the three values that people consider to be the most important in the lives. The first sermon asked people to consider those three values, the second asked them to consider the three most important people in their lives that represented those values, and the third asked them to think about the three institutions that were living out their values.
Like all the other American states, Arkansas has anti-gay marriage laws. However, Arkansas law goes even further and specifically refuses any recognition not only of legal marriage but of same-sex unions (such as Vermont’s) and any other same-sex legal contract made in any other jurisdiction:
“When I looked up institution in the dictionary, it referenced marriage, and having been married for 41 years, I could relate to that! I started thinking about the members of my congregation and even some of my peers in the church that were gay and lesbians — they are good enough to sign a marriage license, but in the eyes of the state, they weren’t good enough to have one of their own. That’s an injustice, when you consider that some of those people have been in committed relationships with the same partner for 10-to-20 years. And that’s what led to me releasing my proclamation, which is really just a condensed version of one of my sermons.
“I have gay and lesbian couples in my own church, and as their minister I have to stand in the pulpit and look them in the eye. To not be accepted by society and to be denied the basic rights that are adherent in the basic institution of marriage must be a painful thing.
“We are basically a non-creedal church that believes in the abundant worth and dignity of each individual. If we are to live our lives grounded in that value, then we need to seek justice as it pertains to all families, not just those sanctioned by the state.”
“Any marriage entered into by persons of the same sex, where a marriage license is issued by another state or by a foreign jurisdiction, shall be void in Arkansas and any contractual or other rights granted by virtue of that license, including its termination, shall be unenforceable in the Arkansas courts.”
Early in March, 2006, Rev. Baird — now as minister of the High Street Unitarian Universalist Church in Macon Georgia — issued the fourth consecutive renewal of his original twelve month commitment.
Rev. Fred Small
The Rev. Fred Small, a Unitarian minister, announced to his congregation of 130 during his sermon on February 2, 2003, that while he would continue to offer marriage ceremonies, he would not sign the state marriage license for opposite-sex couples.|
“I will joyfully marry couples in a religious ceremony. But I will not sign the license unless and until the Commonwealth of Massachusetts extends to same-sex couples the benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage. If heterosexual couples wish to legalize their bond, I will direct them to a justice of the peace for a state certification and the $75 fee.”
The congregation responded to Small’s announcement with a standing ovation. The church voted in 2001 to officially be a “welcoming congregation” for people of all orientations.
“I felt proud to serve a congregation that would be so compassionate and courageous. As I made this decision, the one thing I didn’t have to worry about was my job security.”
Rev. Small believes privileges, such as visiting a partner in the hospital, collecting Social Security benefits and insurance, and legal parenting, should be accorded to all citizens.
“I love marriage. I’m a satisfied customer. I want same-sex couples to be able to partake of the same joy.”
Small, who was married in 1996, has several gay friends and family members, including his mother-in-law and brother-in-law. After hearing of Rev. Rhett D. Baird’s no-sign year [see above article], he decided to not sign any licenses until same-sex unions are legal in Massachusetts.
“Fred’s announcement felt like a momentous event in our church history,” said longtime parishioner Marjorie Harvey, 81. “It’s the first time I’ve seen the congregation rise for a standing ovation after the sermon.”
“That was the most moving service I’ve ever experienced here,” said John Ford, 47, a deacon of the church, who lives in Harvard. The church attracts members from Littleton, Westford, Acton, Ayer, Chelmsford, Groton, Boxborough, Shirley, Westminster, and as far as Lynn and Newburyport.
Phyllis Terrey, a lesbian congregation member doesn’t think the boycott will influence others, however, his public stance, and understanding, could promote others to ponder the issues.
“We’re not going to read next week, or next month, or even next year, that this has all been solved, but it still feels good to have somebody stand up for us,” she said.
Jill-Beth “JB” Sweeney and Steve Schultheis, engaged since August, had already arranged with Rev. Small to marry them in a backyard ceremony on September 13, 2003. The day before he made the announcement, he called the couple, explain his decision, and asked how they felt.
“We never dreamt that our wedding would be an opportunity to take a stand on an issue that’s very important to us,” said Sweeney. “I sort of feel like the accidental activist. I actually feel really blessed by this.”
“The harm of the discrimination is real. It’s not just a matter of symbolism or political correctness. People are being hurt.”
He had followed the seven-year lawsuit of Karen Thompson to gain access to her partner Sharon Kowalski. This Minnesota couples had exchanged rings and co-owned a home. When a drunk driver struck Kowalski, and she suffered severe brain damage, the hospital denied Thompson any information, barring her visits because she was not a legal relative. Kowalski’s parents refused to acknowledge the couple’s relationship, denied Karen any contact with their daughter.
Rev. Small said such stories have convinced him that the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is not just unfair, but harmful and cruel.
Rev. Small, who previously had a career as a singer/songwriter and as an attorney:
“I followed that story in the 1980s and it really brought home to me the privilege and benefit of marriage. There are literally thousands of rights that you get when you get married.”
Normally, at the end of a service, Rev. Small would hold up his hymnal and nod at the choir to begin the last song. However, after his no-signing announcement, he turned, grabbed his acoustic guitar, and played a tune he wrote called “Everything Possible.” It contains the line “You can be anybody you want to be, you can love whomever you will.” [Note: An original arrangement of the song was made by new talent for the video The Right to Marry produced by Partner Task Force.]
Now that legal marriage is available in Massachusetts, we assume Rev. Small has resumed offering ceremonies to all.
[See Massachusetts Offers Legal Marriage]
Rev. F. Jay Deacon
Rev. F. Jay Deacon, of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, Mass., told his congregation, on February 16, 2003, that he will continue to preside over wedding ceremonies but will not sign licenses of non-gay couples.|
“I will not be an agent of the state that withholds from same-sex couples the array of rights and privileges it extends to heterosexual couples,” Deacon said, who has been minister of the 500-member congregation since August 2002.
Deacon, who is gay, called the current system requiring clergy to sign the state’s marriage licenses, is “a strange and most inappropriate ‘wedding’ of church and state.”
Couples who get married in Deacon’s church must now get their licenses signed by a justice of the peace at an additional cost.
After his announcement, the congregation gave him applause. He said, “I’ve never seen that before. I shouldn’t have waited as long as I did. I have been torn about this for many years.”
Jonathan Wright of Northampton, a member of the society and a former president of its board of directors, said about the Sunday morning service, “There is a sense of common cause. In a time when freedom of speech and opinion are not being valued, we feel very blessed to have (Deacon) here as our minister.”
In 1996, the Unitarian Universalist Association general assembly voted overwhelmingly to pass a resolution Deacon helped write that calls for full legalization of same-sex marriage.
Earlier this month, two Unitarian Universalist ministers, the Rev. Fred Small in Littleton and the Rev. Rhett Baird, in Fayetteville, Ark. [see both articles above], both of whom are married to opposite-sex partners, took similar steps.
“When I heard that, I thought, ’This is what I’ve been waiting for,’” Deacon said.
Since announcing his decision, Deacon reported that Rev. William Sinkrord, president of the national Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston, and former president of the national association, and Rev. John Beuhrens, a minister in Needham, have said they will follow suit.
Rev. Deacon expects to talk, accompanied by members of his congregation, with other clergy, suggesting they take a similar stand.
Deacon notes that a marriage license grants more than 1,138 rights [See: U.S. Federal Laws for the Legally Married] and responsibilities on the state and federal level, including access to medical information, hospital visitation, parental and property rights, access to Social Security and veteran benefits, pensions, and IRAs.
“A same-sex couple can spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to win a small fraction of those rights. All of these unequal privileges can be gotten by the stroke of a signature — ironically, by my signature.”
Now that legal marriage is available in Massachusetts, we assume Rev. Deacon has resumed offering ceremonies to all.
[See Massachusetts Offers Legal Marriage]
Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum
“The religious ceremony is something I do for the church, but signing the licenses is something I do for the state records,” said Dr. Landrum.|
Landrum announced on October 2, 2003, that she will not sign another state marriage license until Massachusetts allows same-sex marriages.
A reverend at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Gardner, Landrum joins the growing list of Massachusetts clergy pledging not to sign state marriage licenses. Pledge signers want to encourage the state to allow legal marriage for same-sex couples. The Gardner congregation has about 40 members, 20 percent of whom are homosexual.
Before serving in Massachusetts for a year, Landrum had been a reverend in Houston, Texas. She is heterosexual and married. She decided to sign the pledge as an individual statement of support after talking about it with many members of her congregation. She received only positive reactions.
The pledge allows her to continue performing the religious ceremony, but not officiating for the state-granted marriage license. To be married in the eyes of the state, opposite-sex couples will need to go to a justice of the peace. Because there are extra fees for getting the marriage license, Landrum reduced the cost of the ceremony by that same amount.
The Unitarian Universalist denomination has recognized unions between same-sex couples since 1984. The first recorded union at the Gardner church was performed in the early 1990s.
The many benefits triggered by legal marriage is one of the reasons Landrum wants the state to allow same-sex marriages. Some of the hardest trials same-sex couples face is denial of medical insurance and Social Security partner benefits, and child custody issues.
She affirmed that no matter how long it takes for Massachusetts to allow same-sex marriages, she will stick to her pledge.
Says Landrum, “When the first gay couple in Massachusetts gets their license, signs it and turns it in, I will gladly sign licenses for any couple I marry.”
Now that legal marriage is available in Massachusetts, we assume Rev. Landrum has resumed offering ceremonies to all.
[See Massachusetts Offers Legal Marriage]
Rev. Kathleen McTigue
Rev. Kathleen McTigue, the senior minister at the Unitarian Society of New Haven (USNH), has joined other ministers in refusing to sign any marriage licenses until they can legally marry same-sex couples. Opposite-sex couples will need to get a justice of the peace to sign their legal marriage licenses.|
“I made this decision to stop participating in state-mandated bias,” she said on October 17, 2003, at a special vespers service at the Unitarian Universalist sanctuary on Hartford Turnpike in Hamden. The service included a public blessing of same-sex couples that have been together for many years.
McTigue said that a very small percentage of Christians have become increasingly hostile to gay and lesbian issues and have shown a willingness to be disruptive. At the service, two uniformed police officers provided security. The USNH had one incident where two men confronted her and accused the congregation of being pagans and Baal worshippers.
“Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. And if the Bible is your justification for hate, it also mentions rules for slaves and strict dietary laws. How many Christians follow those? Years ago, it wasn’t legal for a black and white person to marry each other. But societies always evolve and laws change over time. Our job is to see justice extended to all under law.”
McTigue said she has received total support from the parish and board of trustees at the society:
“The point of refusing to sign marriage licenses is to bring our actions into line with our values. My faith teaches me that all people are equally precious and deserve equal respect. From this point on, I can reflect that religious value by treating all the couples I marry equally.”
Charisse Hutton, president of the USNH, stated:
“Our denomination has publicly affirmed gay and lesbian rights for more than 30 years. During that time, our congregational lives have been enriched by gay and lesbian ministers and congregants. For more than 10 years, USNH has been a Welcoming Congregation, signifying open acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. It is a joy to be a public witness on this important civil rights issue.”
Rev. Victoria Safford
In 2003, Rev. Victoria Safford, of the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church in Minneapolis, Minneapolis, in stopped signing legal marriage licenses.
“What we have found is that the members of our congregation have supported this decision wholeheartedly. There is an extra step now, in addition to meeting with me, and with their caterer, and planning the ceremony; they have to find a judge or civic authority who will sign their marriage papers.”
Rev. Todd Eklof
Rev. Todd Eklof — of the Clifton Unitarian Church in Louisville, Kentucky — announced in November 2004, that he will not perform any marriages until all of the 11 state constitutional amendments banning same-sex unions passed on November 2, 2004, are off the books. There were also four states that previously had enacted constitutional amendments.|
[Please see our article Legislative Reactions to Legal Marriage.]
From Rev. Todd Eklof:
“I feel it is my obligation as an act of solidarity with those American citizens that are being discriminated against to perform no more weddings until weddings are redeemed by becoming available to all citizens. I hope not to have a long wait. It is immoral for a group of people to force their religious values through legislation onto every other citizen in the country.”
In January, 2005, Rev. Eklof was fired from his Kentucky Farm Bureau job, two months after he announced to his congregation he would not perform marriages of any kind until legal marriage was made available to same-sex couples. Among the agency’s reasons for termination, Bureau executive vice president David Beck offered that it is against policy for employees to take “high profile positions on public issues.” Eklof has sued asserting that the agency fired him for speaking publicly against the state’s anti-gay, anti-marriage constitutional amendment.
Rev. David Ensign
On November 3, 2005, Pastor David Ensign, of the Clarendon Presbyterian Church in Arlington, Virginia, and the church’s governing council announced that they had decided to stop performing marriages.|
He renounce his state-given authority to marry couples as a protest against Virginia’s laws banning same-sex marriage. Any opposite-sex couple who has their union blessed in a “celebration ceremony” at the church will have to take the extra step of being officially wed by a justice of the peace at the courthouse.
“What we’re saying is that in the commonwealth of Virginia, the laws that govern marriage are unjust and unequal”
Ensign served as the church’s pastor since 2003. He said that the matter had been bothering him for months and that he suggested the policy to the congregation’s leaders because his conscience would not allow him to continue performing legal marriages on the state’s behalf.
Early in January 2006, Rev. Booker-Hirsch told leaders of the North Ann Arbor Northside Presbyterian Church that he no longer will be a wedding officiator for the state until same-sex couples couples can get a legal marriage.|
“It’s all about being on a level playing ground; it’s a simple matter of justice.”
Booker-Hirsch, 45, has led his 60-member congregation almost eight years, and has been ordained for almost 11. He is married to Rev. Amy Booker-Hirsch, a minister affiliated with the Ann Arbor Memorial Christian Church. Their son is eight.
“It’s hypocritical for me to collect money from couples who can be legally married when there are others who can’t.”
Rev. Joe Hoffman
On February 19, 2006, Rev. Joe Hoffman announced in his Sunday morning sermon he would no longer perform civil marriages for the state. Rev. Hoffman, pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, North Carolina, stated that it was an effort to treat his gay and lesbian parishioners the same as heterosexuals.
Rev. Joe Hoffman:
“When I sign that piece of paper for marriage, as an agent of the state, I give (heterosexual couples) about 1,100 rights and privileges that gay and lesbian couples do not get. I believe in equal rights for all people. As a minister, I was participating in a system that was unjust.”
Rev. Mark Ward
The Rev. Mark Ward, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Asheville, announced on March 19, 2006, that he will not sign any more marriage licenses until all committed couples had the opportunity to have their marriage licenses approved.|
Rev. Ward will still perform religious ceremonies for opposite-sex couples wishing to have church rites, however, he will direct the couples to public officials who can perform civil ceremonies and sign their marriage licenses.
Rev. Mark Ward:
“As ministers we are sort of de facto agents of the state in that we have the ability to legalize marriage of couples we deal with. I will choose not to perform that function as long as the state’s laws are unjust.
“I accept the responsibility and believe that it is a good thing for people in a committed relationship to come together and join in an intentional joining of their lives. I think it’s a good thing religiously. I think it’s a good thing civilly. I think, we as a society, benefit by having people who are in committed relationships. I think it’s a more stable society, it’s better for all the people they depend on, whether it be children, or elderly parents, or all the rest, it’s basically a good thing, so I support that process, but the problem I have is with the legal status of it right now in North Carolina.”
Rev. Don Portwood
On April 9, 2006, the Lyndale United Church of Christ, in Minneapolis, Minneapolis, voted to stop performing civil marriages for opposite-sex couples because civil marriage isn’t offered to same-sex couples.|
Rev. Don Portwood:
“I will no longer sign marriage licenses as an agent of the state of Minnesota, until the state of Minnesota recognizes the loving commitment of all couples.
“I will no longer sign marriage licenses. Opposite gender couples will have to go to the judge at city hall to have them signed. We have decided that we are no longer going to discriminate against same-gender couples, that we will only do religious weddings and religious ceremonies for [both] same-gender or opposite-gender couples.”
Rev. Sarah Campbell
On May 24, 2006, the Mayflower Community Congregational, Church United Church of Christ, in Minneapolis, Minneapolis, voted to stop performing civil marriages for opposite-sex couples because civil marriage is not offered to same-sex couples. More than two-thirds of the congregation approved the change.|
Rev. Sarah Campbell:
“Since many members of the Mayflower congregation feel that state marriage law discriminates against gay members of our congregation, the congregation has decided to separate itself [from] state law.”
Mayflower clergy will no longer sign marriage licenses. Couples marrying at the church who are eligible for civil marriage will need to go to a county official to have their marriage legalized.
Rev. Franklyn J. Bergen
Rev. Franklyn J. Bergen, of Tucson, Arizona, has been a priest for 40 years, initially a Roman Catholic and now an Episcopalian. He has officiated at marriages, and occasionally invoked the church’s blessing on the unions of couples already civilly married.|
Rev. Franklyn J. Bergen:
“After a great deal of thought and prayer, I will no longer perform civil marriages because I choose not to recognize the justice of Arizona’s law prohibiting same-sex marriage. I would suggest to my sister and brother clergy and authorized representatives of our many faith traditions that they consider adopting this hands-off position in regard to civil marriage.”
“Perhaps a more strict adherence to the doctrine of the separation of church and state might enable all concerned to recognize that the one word we all use (marriage) need not mean exactly the same thing in all contexts.”
Governments that offer Full Legal Marriage
South Africa (2005)
New Zealand (2013)
New Zealand (2013)
(England, Wales, Scotland) (2013)
US States & Territories
New Hampshire (2009)
District of Columbia (2009)
New York (2011)
Rhode Island (2013)
New Jersey (2013)
New Mexico (2013)
Michigan (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
Arkansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
West Virginia (2014)
Kansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
North Carolina (2014)
South Carolina (2014)
U.S. Supreme Court (June 26, 2015):
Ruling: All U.S. States must now
allow same-sex couples the
freedom of legal marriage.
Native American Tribes|
Coquille Tribe, Oregon (2009)
Mashantucket Pequot, Connecticut (2011)
Suquamish Tribe, Washington (2011)
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Washington (2013)
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota (2013)
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Michigan (2013)
Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Michigan (2013)
Santa Ysabel Tribe, California (2013)
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, Washington (2013)
Cheyenne, Oklahoma (2013)
Arapaho, Oklahoma (2013)
Leech Lake Tribal Court, Minnesota (2013)
Puyallup Tribe, Washington (2914)
Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming (2014)
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Michigan, (2014)
Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington (2014)
Central Council of Tlingit, Alaska (2015)
Haida Indian Tribes, Alaska (2015)