Statement Concerning Religious Freedom

Statement of the Council of Elders
Concerning the Religious Freedom of the Metropolitan Community Churches

Although there has been progress around the world in protecting rights of persons to marry, to adopt children, and to gain access to health care regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, those refusing to recognize these legal protections, including appointed and elected civil servants, have asserted that they are exercising their “religious freedom” in this refusal. In direct response to this assertion, the Council of Elders of the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) affirms its religious freedom, and spiritual practice of, performing marriages of people of all genders, and supporting the right to adopt, and access to health care, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

An examination of the history of one of these rights, the right of all genders to marry, bears witness to MCC’s important and long-standing exercise of its religious freedom. Within just two months after Rev. Elder Troy Perry founded MCC in 1968, he performed the rite of Holy Matrimony for a same-gender couple. Since that first same-gender Holy Matrimony over 52 years ago, it has been the spiritual practice of MCC congregations world-wide to sanctify same-gender loving relationships through the rite of Holy Matrimony. The rite of Holy Matrimony is in the Bylaws of the denomination at Article III. Sacraments and Rites, B. Rites, 3. The RIGHT OF HOLY UNION/RITE OF HOLY MATRIMONY, which states: “The RITE OF HOLY UNION/RITE OF HOLY MATRIMONY is the spiritual joining of two persons in a manner fitting and proper by a duly authorized clergy, Interim Pastoral Leader of the church, or [MCC] Elders. After both persons have been counseled and apprised of their responsibilities one toward the other, this rite of conferring God’s blessing may be performed.”

Not only has the denomination consistently practiced its religious freedom through the spiritual practice of joining same-gender couples in the rite of Holy Matrimony, but MCC denominational leaders have been at the forefront of marriage equality movements in many countries. For example:

1969
Rev. Elder Troy Perry filed the first lawsuit in the United States, against the State of California, seeking recognition of the same-gender marriage he performed in March. In addition, the Los Angeles Times printed the word “homosexual” for the first time, in an article about MCC. In the article, the list of the mother church’s ministries affirmed the MCC spiritual practice of the rite of same-gender Holy Matrimony. “The church offers a variety of activities and services…including…marriage ceremonies, though they are not legally binding.”

1972
Rev. Richard Vincent of MCC Dallas performed a same-gender marriage in the state of Texas.

1975
Two MCC clergy, Rev. Elder Frida Smith and Rev. Robert Sirico, officiated at the first same-gender marriage granted under the State of Colorado under its civil marriage legislation. The Colorado Bureau of Records website still lists the marriage.

1994
MCC’s Rev. Roberto Gonzalez performed the first mass same-gender couple blessing in South America, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

2000
A mass celebration and demonstration for Marriage Equality, including the exchange of wedding vows, was held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC as part of the Millennium March on Washington for Equality.

2001
Rev. Brent Hawkes, the Senior Pastor of MCC Toronto, Ontario, Canada, performed two same-gender marriages, using the Canadian law of “Reading of the Banns”. Lawsuits later affirmed, in 2003, these marriages as legal marriages in the province of Ontario, Canada. Shortly thereafter, Rev. Elder Troy Perry and Phillip Ray De Bleick, married in Ontario, Canada. Also in this year, Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson and Dr. Paula Schoenwether filed a federal lawsuit in the State of Florida, seeking nation-wide recognition of their legal marriage granted in the State of Massachusetts.

2002
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, MCC Rev. Alejandro Soria and Rev. Oscar Benitez were the second same-gender couple to be united in a civil union in Latin America.

2004
Rev. Dwayne Morgan, as an MCC Pastor authorized by the local Registrar, performed the United Kingdom’s first same-gender marriage to be held in a religious building at the MCC church in Bournemouth, England.

Also that year, Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson and Dr. Paula Schoenwether filed a federal lawsuit in the state of Florida, USA, seeking nation-wide recognition of their legal marriage granted in the state of Massachusetts, USA.

2006
When South Africa legalized same-gender marriage, Rev. Janine Preesman, pastor of Glorious Light MCC, Pretoria, South Africa, was the first religious marriage officer authorized to perform marriages under the new law. Rev. Nokuthula Dhladhla, who pastored Hope and Unity MCC in Johannesburg, South Africa, officiated the first religious marriage ceremony in South Africa along with her co-pastor, Rev. Paul Mokgethi, and Rev. Janine Preesman.

2008
Rev. Troy Perry, his husband Phillip Ray De Blieck, and fellow litigants successfully sued the State of California, with the California Supreme Court ruling same-gender marriage legal in California, under the state constitution.

2009
Rev. Karl Hand of CRAVE MCC, Sydney, Australia, served on a committee on the activist group Community Action Against Homophobia, which organized a rally to support the Australian marriage equality bill.

2010
Rev. Elder Darlene Garner and Rev. Candy Holmes were among the first couples to be legally married in Washington, D.C., USA.

2014
MCC was listed as one of only 9 religious/belief organizations authorized in Scotland, United Kingdom, to perform same-gender marriages.

MCC clergy and laity continue to be active in numerous countries world-wide, seeking the legal recognition of the denomination’s spiritual practice of same-gender holy matrimony. In addition, MCC continues to support marriage equality by publicly criticizing any attempts, through legislation or court decision, to limit same-gender marriage couples’ equal parentage rights, inheritance rights, etc., that naturally flow from any legal marriage.

In addition, MCC practices its religious freedom in supporting the right to adopt and to have access to health care, regardless of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Based on this rich history, we hereby affirm these rights as part of Metropolitan Community Churches’ doctrine, ritual, practice and religious freedom.

In Christ,

Rev. Elder Ines-Paul, Köln, Germany
Rev. Elder Pat Bumgardner, New York City, NY, USA
Rev. Elder Cecilia Eggleston, Summerset, England, UK
Rev. Elder Tony Freeman, Tucson, AZ, USA
Rev. Elder Hector Gutiérrez, Guadalajara, Mexico
Rev. Elder Dwayne Johnson, Washington, D.C., USA
Elder Nancy Maxwell, Kansas City, MO, USA

For more information on MCC’s role in marriage equality, see https://www.mccchurch.org/overview/history-of-mcc/mcc-and-marriage-equality/