Bolton has joined a small but growing band of clergy who have decided that they won't sign any marriage licenses as agents of the state until it allows gays and lesbians to marry. Some rabbis and ministers in states including Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan and Connecticut have told their congregants that when it comes to weddings they are in the business of religious ceremonies - only - and they have redirected couples to the local courthouse for the paperwork.
"There's sort of a steady drip, drip, drip of people starting to do this," said the Rev. Donald Stroud, minister of outreach and reconciliation at That All May Freely Serve Baltimore, an organization that advocates for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Presbyterian Church.
"I think it does raise people's consciousness - that's one element. But I think a lot of ministers who do this do this first because their conscience compels them," said Stroud. The Presbyterian Church does not sanction same-sex marriage, but it also does not compel pastors to sign licenses, he said. And like some of his colleagues, he would decline to do so if the issue arose because of what he sees as the state's discriminatory laws..
Maryland's highest court last year upheld a law that defines marriage as between a woman and a man, and efforts have not advanced in the General Assembly to create a legal relationship for gay and lesbian couples that confers many of the same rights granted to married couples.
In many cases, congregants have applauded the stances of their pastors and rabbis - most are already fully aware of their religious leaders' political affinities - or participated in the decision to implement a no-sign policy.
...[T]he Rev. Tom Harris, pastor of Govans Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, felt he wanted to do more than go to rallies. He was struck with a sense of urgency while watching a little girl and her mother at a February gay rights lobby day in Annapolis.
"I think it was the innocence of the little girl - that's what hit me. These children are entirely innocent and need the protections of marriage if they're going to be growing up in families," he said. "That's when I really felt I had to do something more than what I was already doing."
He thought and prayed for a couple of weeks before announcing in his church's March newsletter that he would no longer sign marriage documents. "By signing marriage licenses as an agent of the State of Maryland for heterosexual couples, but not for homosexual couples, I am knowingly and willingly participating in an unjust, harmful practice and I do not wish to do so," he wrote.
If only our legislators could realize what Rev. Harris did--banning gay couples from marrying isn't going to help any children. Instead it's going to hurt the children of gay couples.