For many years clergy declined to sign marriage licenses as a protest on behalf of same-sex marriage. Other clergy now decline to sign marriage licenses as a protest on behalf of male-female marriage.

As Salon reported in 2009, the earlier protests argued that the state should not be free to control access to marriage:

Supporters of the campaign argue that faith leaders have, by default, become agents of the state, signing off on marriage licenses — whether or not they agree with the state’s policy on marriage. By asking clergy to refuse to sign marriage certificates, they hope to make a distinction between the obligation of the state to afford equal rights to all and marriage as a religious sacrament.

In short, the Refuse-to-Sign campaign says, while churches have the right to choose whether to bless same-sex couples, states should not have such a choice, and have a duty to extend marriage certificates to all who seek them.

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The new protests, as the Rev. Ephraim Radner and the Rev. Christopher Seitz write in First Things, argue that Christians must resist state efforts to redefine marriage:

The new definition of marriage no longer coincides with the Christian understanding of marriage between a man and woman. Our biblical faith is committed to upholding, celebrating, and furthering this understanding, which is stated many times within the Scriptures and has been repeatedly restated in our wedding ceremonies, church laws, and doctrinal standards for centuries. To continue with church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage.

First Things editor introduced the pledge this morning in a brief blog post, “A Time to Rend”:

It’s time to make a clear distinction between the government-enforced legal regime of marriage and the biblical covenant of marriage. In the past, the state recognized marriage, giving it legal forms to reinforce its historic norms. Now the courts have redefined rather than recognized marriage, making it an institution entirely under the state’s control. That’s why it’s now time to stop speaking of civil marriage and instead talk about government marriage — calling it what it is.

In its first few hours the pledge has attracted a few diverse signatures, encompassing lay and ordained Anglicans, Lutherans, Roman Catholics — and the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Douglas LeBlanc

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