Asking the right questions

marriage equality_0In a blog post published yesterday, Chicago Tribune religion reporter, Manya Brachear asks, “Should clergy cross the border to marry gay congregants?”  Apparently nine lesbian couples traveled with their Unitarian Universalist ministers from Minnesota to Iowa, so that the couples could be legally married.  This situation is becoming more and more common as states allow same-sex marriage.  However, Brachear asks the wrong question, conflating the religious and secular issues surrounding marriage in general and same-sex marriage specifically.

But first, Brachear seems confused about the Unitarian-Universalist denomination.  She says:

The mass shotgun wedding wasn’t just a political stunt. It was part of a church mission trip organized by the Unitarian Universalist Church.

There is no such thing as the Unitarian Universalist Church, with a capital C.  Unlike other denominations, Unitarian-Universalism is based in church polity, the concept that each congregation is allowed the freedom to make its own decisions and follow its own spiritual path.  This makes perfect sense for a creedless faith, but it is certainly confusing to those of more traditional faith systems.  Churches may or may not belong to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), an umbrella organization that provides resources and helps coordinate UU efforts.  But even if they do, they are not required to follow UUA rules or guidelines, and in fact, many UU churches pick and choose.

Frankly, a religion reporter should be more careful with these details.

But the bigger question is the question itself:  “Should clergy who perform same-sex wedding ceremonies take congregants across state lines to make it legal?”  I honestly don’t understand what she is asking.  Many UU churches–the ones in this story included–sanction same-sex marriage.  Ministers of these congregations have the right to preform these marriages, even if they are not legal in that state.  And as long as they follow the laws of another state, they are legally permitted to perform these marriages in another state.  What they are not legally permitted to do–in states that don’t allow same-sex marriage–is sign marriage licenses granting civil rights to same-sex couples.

In Minnesota, same-sex marriage is not legal.  So even though the marriages are legal in Iowa, they are not legally recognized in the couples’ home states.  It is possible that two things were happening:  the couples were preparing for the possibility that Minnesota will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and they wanted their own ministers to perform the services.

So the question must be ethical.  Is it ethical for clergy who perform same-sex wedding ceremonies take congregants across state lines to make it legal?  That again doesn’t make sense.  These UU churches apparently do sanction same-sex marriage, and the ministers there are obviously happy to perform such marriages.  What does it matter which state they are in?

Unfortunately, Brachear ignores the opportunity to distinguish the civil and religious aspects of marriage and instead reaches for a confusing angle to a rather straight-forward story.  At this point, there are no responses to her blog post.  It will be interesting to see what her readers think.

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