Two years ago Minister Pamela Shepherd heard about a church in Minnesota that had stopped issuing wedding licenses because of its opposition to a ban on same-sex marriage. She admired the stand, but eventually went about her own work. From time to time, she thought about how she would perform a wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple but not sign the license afterward—thanks to Oregon state law.
“Then it dawned on me,” she says.
Two weeks ago Shepherd and the three other clergy people from the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Ashland decided they won't sign any marriage licenses for anyone—until the state recognizes all marriages.
“I was signing a license for one group and not another, and I realized I was taking part in discrimination,” says Shepherd (pictured above, second from right), who still performs wedding ceremonies for heterosexual and homosexual couples alike. “It took me two years to decide I just couldn’t do that anymore.”
When you consider the UCC’s liberal leaning, it’s not such a stretch to think its clergy would start adopting such stances. The UCC Senate began officially supporting marriage for all people in 2005.
The response to Shepherd’s decision has been quick, vocal—and mostly supportive. “It’s at about 20 to 1 for those in favor vs. those against,” she says. “The emails have been pouring in.”
The UCC has even run a newspaper ad that details why it’s taking such action. It says in part: “…Faith-based communities have no right to tell the state who may or may not receive equal protection under the law, based on any community’s religious beliefs.”
For Shepherd, much of her reasoning comes down to separation of Church and State.
“Separation is good for the church, it’s good for faith-based people,” she says. “We need to keep talking about these issues with our more conservative congregations. But these kinds of public policy decisions should not be dictated by the Bible, they should be based on the Constitution. Churches can then decide who does and who doesn’t take part in a sacrament.”
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