time to challenge New York's unjust law -- a law that violates the First Amendment
rights of all New York clergy. I call upon religious leaders across New York to
follow Rev. Bumgardner's courageous example by conducting civil disobedience actions
and public same-sex weddings without the benefit of civil marriage licenses to
draw attention to this injustice."
Adovcacy News - Canadian religious strategy echoed in U.S.
March 16, 2004
religious strategy echoed in U.S.
The Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto placed same-sex marriage at the top of the news across Canada when they married us and our friends Anne and Elaine Vautour in January 2001. It was the beginning of a public debate that continues in this country to this day. The congregation's initiative prepared the way for a political and legal challenge that resulted in the legal recognition of the marriages in June 2003 and the opening of civil marriage for all same-sex couples in Ontario, and one month later in British Columbia.
At the time of our marriage, the governments of Ontario and Canada said our wedding was illegal, but the courts soon proved them, and our detractors, wrong (who insisted on always putting quotations around the word marriage to indicate their reserved qualifications). It was a wonderful example of a faith community breaking the ancient code of prejudice that taints some religious communities. It marked the first time that a religious denomination fought for gay marriage in Canadian courts since the creation of the Charter, supported by other faith communities including the Unitarians.
Now a similar effort has begun in the United States, again involving Unitarians and Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC). First two Unitarian Universalist ministers, Rev. Kay Greenleaf and Rev. Dawn Sangrey, were charged with criminal offenses for marrying 13 same-sex couples in New Paltz, New York. Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams said gay marriage laws make no distinction between public officials and the clergy who preside over wedding ceremonies. Critics said the action was unprecedented and accused prosecutors of violating religious freedom.
Greenleaf and Sangrey were charged with solemnizing a marriage without a license (NY Domestic Relation Law, Article 3, Paragraph 17), the same charges leveled against New Paltz Mayor Jason West. Each charge carries a fine of $25 to $500 or up to a year in jail. The Reverend Dr. Troy D. Perry, Founder and Moderator of the 43,000 member Metropolitan Community Churches denomination, endorsed the civil disobedience event and encouraged other clergy across New York State to challenge the law.
"It's time to challenge New York's unjust law," he said in an MCC statement released today, "a law that violates the First Amendment rights of all New York clergy. I call upon religious leaders across New York to follow Rev. Bumgardner's courageous example by conducting civil disobedience actions and public same-sex weddings without the benefit of civil marriage licenses to draw attention to this injustice."
Last month Rev. Perry filed suit against the County of Los Angeles seeking legal recognition of his Toronto marriage.
The Rev. Pat Bumgardner, the openly lesbian senior pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of New York City, will publicly challenge New York's clergy marriage statutes on Thursday, March 18 at 9:30 AM. Rev. Bumgardner will perform public marriage ceremonies on the steps of the New York City Municipal Building (1 Center Street, adjacent to City Hall) for two same-sex couples who have been denied civil marriage licenses. New York law prohibits clergy from solemnizing marriages without a civil marriage license.
"If you really believe it is wrong to marry people without benefit of a civil marriage license, then arrest me -- arrest all of us, too," said Rev. Bumgardner, in a challenge to the civil authorities.
In announcing the civil disobedience actions, Rev. Bumgardner said, "I am calling the Attorney Generals, the prosecuting District Attorneys, the interpreters of the laws and those enforcing those interpretations to accountability. If you really believe it is wrong to marry people without benefit of a civil marriage license, then arrest me -- arrest all of us, too. Otherwise, stop selectively harassing people, like the Mayor of New Paltz or the clergy conducting same-sex marriages there, for your own political gain."