To support equality, church leaders in Kentucky stop signing marriage licenses

Leaders of a Christian Church in Louisville say they will stop signing state marriage licenses in a show of support for gay couples in Kentucky who can’t enjoy the same legal benefits as married couples.

More than 60 members at the Douglass Boulevard Christian Church voted unanimously in favor of the gesture. Church leaders said they wouldn’t sign licenses until gay couples are able to enjoy the financial and other advantages of a legal marriage in Kentucky.

Pastors who sign the licenses bestow “a number of gifts and benefits” to married couples, said the Rev. Derek Penwell, the church’s senior pastor.

“It seems the system itself is unjust, and our position at this point is, we love people across the board here and we don’t want to be in a position that underwrites a system that discriminates against people we care about,” Penwell said.

Penwell said the church’s move is in line with “the teachings of Jesus that focus on the necessity of embracing the powerless, giving voice to the voiceless.”

Some other congregations in Ohio, New York, Virginia and Oregon have made similar stands in support of gay marriage, many in response to their state’s bans on gay marriage.

Kentucky was one of 11 states that voted in 2004 to change its constitution to outlaw same-sex marriages. The constitutional amendment said marriage is limited to one man and one woman. It also prohibited unmarried people from ever obtaining “legal status identical to or similar to marriage.” Same-sex marriages were already prohibited under Kentucky law.

The Louisville church will continue to hold weddings but couples would have to seek legal a signature for their marriage license from an official. Penwell said the church hosted about eight weddings last year.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville-based gay-rights group, called the church a “pioneer congregation.”

“This is an incredible gesture towards fairness and equality in faith,” Hartman said.

Legal marriage gives couples in Kentucky tax, insurance and inheritance benefits that aren’t available to same-sex couples, Hartman said. He said gay couples are able to adopt children, but the process is complicated and only one parent is eligible for full parental rights.

Penwell said the church in eastern Louisville, which attracts about 100 members to Sunday services, has attracted a growing number of gay members over the past year but the flock remains predominantly straight. Penwell said the church, a member of the Disciples of Christ, has received some negative feedback since the decision, but “90 to 95 percent” of it has been supportive.