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MCC Clergy Holding Public Weddings Without Civil Licenses

Church Moderator Calls For Civil Disobedience Across New York

9:30 AM Today: NYC Marriage Activists at Municipal Building

Compiled by GayToday

The Reverend Pat Bumgardner, in a challenge to civil authorities, will conduct same-sex weddings in New York City today New York City-- The Reverend Pat Bumgardner, the openly lesbian senior pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of New York City, will publicly challenge New York's clergy marriage statutes today, March 18th at 9:30 AM.

Reverend 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 Reverend Bumgardner, in a challenge to the civil authorities.

The New York law was highlighted nationally this week when 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.

"The clergy of Metropolitan Community Churches have been performing same-sex weddings without civil marriage licenses for 35 years," said Perry, the first openly gay member of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. "It's 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 Reverend 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."

According to denominational officials, Metropolitan Community Churches perform more than 6000 same-sex weddings annually. "These are weddings that are blessed by God, but for which the government still denies recognition, said Perry."

Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) have a long history of activism on behalf of marriage equality. In 1969, MCC performed the first public same-sex wedding in the U.S. In 1970, the church filed the first-ever lawsuit seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriages. In 2001, Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto filed the lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriages in Canada. And in February 2004, Perry filed suit against the County of Los Angeles seeking legal recognition of his Canadian same-sex marriage.

In announcing the civil disobedience actions, Reverend 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."

Joining Reverend Bumgardner this morning will be Ellen Lippmann, founder and rabbi of Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives, a progressive congregation in Brooklyn, NY,

Additional information on MCC's commitment to marriage equality may be found on-line at www.MCCchurch.org .
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