LOS ANGELES: All Saints, Pasadena, clergy opt out of civil marriages until gay couples can legally wed

Other congregations urged to follow suit
June 4, 2009

Clergy at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, are opting out of performing civil marriages until gay couples can legally wed--and are encouraging other clergy to do likewise, according to the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector. "At the heart of Jesus's moral vision and All Saints' historic mission is respecting the dignity of every human being," Bacon said in a June 3 press release announcing the decision, which is effective immediately. "The California Supreme Court in its recent opinion has ruled that those of same-gender affections are second-class citizens," Bacon added. "Denying fundamental rights to a certain classification of humanity is blatant discrimination with which our governing board, the other clergy of All Saints, and I will not participate. We invite other clergy and congregations to join us in this stand for marriage equality." Bacon referred to the May 26 state Supreme Court ruling that upheld the controversial Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment providing that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid in California." Their decision sparked nationwide rallies by both advocates and opponents of the measure. The Rev. Susan Russell, an associate at the Pasadena congregation known for its social activism and progressive politics, said on June 4 that clergy are meeting with couples whose nuptials were already planned "to explain the new policy and hold pastoral conversations about the impact on them. "We only do member weddings, so folks married here at All Saints typically share our values of inclusion and would be on board, we think, with making arrangements to have the civil part of their marriage take place external to All Saints clergy," said Russell, who is president of Integrity USA, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians. But she added that: "We will continue to serve and marry them civilly if that's what the couple prefers for whatever reason because that was the contract going in." All Saints vestry, at its June 2 meeting, had unanimously passed a resolution declaring that "the sacramental right of marriage is available to all couples, but that the clergy of All Saints Church will not sign civil marriage certificates so long as the right to marry is denied to same-sex couples." The vestry's decision acknowledged "our active participation in the discriminatory system of civil marriage is inconsistent with Jesus's call to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being." The resolution states "civil marriage in the State of California is, as a result of Proposition 8 and the Court's decision, a constitutionally-mandated instrument of discrimination, which furthers injustice and denies same-sex couples the fundamental dignities to which each human being is entitled," Bacon said. Russell said there was little discussion in the vestry meeting. "It was just a no-brainer that of course we want to take steps that keep us from being complicit in state-sponsored discrimination. "I keep thinking I couldn't be prouder to work at All Saints church than I already am and then our leadership keeps taking steps that make me even prouder," Russell said. "It was it is such a part of the DNA of All Saints Church to stand with those in need of solidarity. This stand is so deeply rooted in our baptismal covenant, it gives us such a strong theological place to stand. It feels like very firm foundation, indeed." The Rev. Neil Thomas of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Los Angeles, a petitioner in the Proposition 8 case, said the 40-year-old 500-member congregation likewise is observing a moratorium on signing civil weddings. "We will not sign the paperwork" for civil marriages, said Thomas, whose ministry is primarily, but not exclusively, to the LGBT community. He is also the president of California Faith for Equality, a progressive interfaith movement of about 6,000 clergy, which submitted an amicus brief advocating that the California Supreme Court overturn Proposition 8.