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Pastor won't sign marriage licenses

A Massachusetts minister has told his congregation that he will refuse to sign the marriage licenses of couples he marries until the state approves same-sex marriage, reports the Boston Globe.

”I will joyfully perform religious weddings for heterosexual or same-sex couples,” the Rev. Fred Small told the 130 or so assembled for Sunday service on Feb. 2, according to the report. ”But I will not sign the license unless and until the Commonwealth of Massachusetts extends to same-sex couples the benefits, protections and responsibilities of marriage. If heterosexual couples wish to legalize their bond, I will direct them to a justice of the peace.”

Small is the pastor of First Church Unitarian in Boston, which is housed in an historic white church that dates back to 1841. His church is part of the Unitarian Universalist denomination.

The Globe reports that Small, a former folk singer, got the idea from a colleague in Arkansas who has vowed not to sign marriage licenses for one year. But instead of a year, Small will beg off signing licenses until same-sex unions are legal in Massachusetts. According to the paper, Small has several homosexual friends and family members, including his mother-in-law and brother-in-law.

Vermont is the only state that recognizes same-sex civil unions. Thirty-six states have passed laws against them. Several groups in Massachusetts are working to ban homosexual unions, including the Waltham-based Citizens for Marriage. And Gov. Mitt Romney, according to the Globe, has said he opposes same-sex marriage and would not sign legislation to legalize it.

Phyllis Terrey, a homosexual member of Small’s congregation, doesn’t believe that the minister’s boycott will sway opponents. But she appreciates his taking a public stand.

”We’re not going to read next week or next month or even next year that this has all been solved, but it still feels good to have somebody stand up for us,” she told the Globe.

One heterosexual couple Small is scheduled to marry in the fall is thrilled with his new commitment. They plan to go through with the ceremony as planned and have a justice of the peace sign the paperwork.

”We never dreamt that our wedding would be an opportunity to take a stand on an issue that’s very important to us,” bride Jill-Beth Sweeney told the Globe. ”I sort of feel like the accidental activist. I actually feel really blessed by this.”

According to the report, Small’s 20-minute sermon during which he made his announcement drew a standing ovation from his congregation.