Principles and Policy Collide with Religion: The Kentucky County Clerk Conflict

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If you have been following the drama in the Rowan County Clerk’s office, then you know that a Kentucky public official has refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.  She has now been found in contempt of court, and you can read the update here: Kentucky Clerk’s Office Will Issue Marriage Licenses Friday – Without Clerk.  The topic came up at my Bible Study yesterday morning.  This clerk, an elected public official, is charged with issuing a legal document for marriages, and she has refused to do so since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriages in the United States.  Many religious spokespersons and political leaders have supported her stance.  I do not.  It is not about supporting or opposing gay marriage from a Christian stand point either.  In the United States, couples, both heterosexual and now homosexual, have the right to be legally married.  That may have nothing to do with Holy matrimony.

Holy matrimony is a covenant made before God and consecrated, made sacred, by the blessing of God upon the individuals and the union.  It is officiated by clergy, acting on behalf of the Church, and done within the context of a worship service.  The language is specific and includes prayers, Scripture readings, and the invocation of blessings.  As clergy, I officiate Holy matrimony.  It just so happens that the Commonwealth of Virginia, where I reside and serve a local church, recognizes my authority to perform Holy matrimony as valid for legal marriage as well.  So that, if a couple goes to the courthouse and fills out the proper paperwork to obtain a marriage license no more than sixty days before their wedding ceremony, I can fill out the license, submit it to the court, and then the Holy matrimony is also a legal marriage, but this does not have to be the case.  I can and have performed Holy matrimony without it being a legally recognized marriage.  God does not stipulate that Holy matrimony be a legal change in status for secular institutions and governments.

What the Rowan County Clerk fails to realize is that her objection on religious grounds is inconsequential because the Supreme Court did not and could not require religious institutions to perform Holy matrimony for gay couples.  There are certainly many Christian denominations and churches that do, but it has never been required by the United States government.  Holy matrimony is under the Church’s purview.  If the County Clerk wishes to belong to a church that does not perform Holy matrimony for gay couples, then that is her prerogative, but to withhold a civil license for a secular purpose is ludicrous.  Her argument is even judgmental and flawed.  While I understand that she is against Holy matrimony for gays, she has been providing legal licenses for heterosexual couples without any proof or knowledge that they are justified to be married from a religious stand point.  She performs no premarital counseling, as I and most clergy do.

Premarital counseling is not just to makes sure a couple understands the gravity of their request to be married or that they have proper communication and conflict resolution skills; it allows the officiating clergy to be comfortable with presiding at the covenantal ceremony.  I will be asking questions that are part of a life long commitment ratified before God.  I need to know that there is no abuse going on.  I clarify that both parties understands divorce is not the way God intends for marriage to terminate, but to last until death parts them.  I make certain both parties desire this union and are committed to it.  I am acting on behalf of the Church and calling upon God to be witness.  I do not take that lightly.  Even as a Christian lay person that would not be the Clerk’s role, and she lacks the training and religious authority to make that judgement call.  I have no doubt at least one heterosexual couple has been issued a marriage license during her tenure for whom I would not have felt comfortable or confident performing Holy matrimony.

No government entity is requiring religious institutions to perform gay marriage ceremonies.  We are still free to keep Holy matrimony as heterosexual or as universal as we please.  Christians need to remember that there are things of God and the Church that are not tied to legal status and secular recognition.  Holy matrimony is one of them.  Even if state and federal governments suddenly stopped recognizing  Holy matrimony as legal marriage, clergy would still perform the covenant.  Just as baptisms and Holy communion have no legal bearing, they are sacred to us and have infinite value to those who partake in their grace.  Holy matrimony and services of death and resurrection (funerals) are the same.  Some Christians need to stop looking for a fight, and taking every opportunity to be outraged.  Instead, let us focus on whether we are living out the Gospel of truth, hope, and love.  There is plenty of work to be done, and fighting over legal paperwork is probably not high on Christ’s list.

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