I’m a Christian pastor. I’m also a proud American who deeply values religious liberty.

That’s why I’m dumfounded (and frankly, offended) that proponents of the Defense of Marriage Act claim that their religious liberty is under attack. As if overturning DOMA would mean that ministers would be forced, despite their religious convictions, to marry same-gender couples. Spoiler alert: They won’t.

I joyfully marry both same-gender and heterosexual couples, but I always have the right to say no when I feel uncomfortable doing so. Why? Because the law and my church allow me that right. If I interview a couple that seems ill-suited for each other or that seems not to take the commitment seriously, I have no qualms about turning them down.

If I wanted to — which I don’t — I also could refuse to marry interracial couples or divorced people. For centuries, many churches and clergy did so based on their interpretation of scripture. Some churches still do.

Many of us find that appalling, but that’s part of our religious freedom as a pastors: to carry out our role with integrity to what we believe.

Any pastor, rabbi, imam or priest who doesn’t want to marry a couple can take Nancy Reagan’s advice and “Just say no.”


The couple might even thank you for it. On the most sacred day of their lives, people want to be surrounded by those who love and cherish their union as much as they do.

My understanding of scripture leads me to believe that any time I help usher in a couple’s fullest expression of love, I am doing God’s work. The government can’t and won’t compel me to interpret scripture that way. My faith and my conscience do.

Because the United Church of Christ agrees with me, church officials, in conjunction with officials of other religious and secular groups, signed a Supreme Court amicus brief challenging Prop. 8 and DOMA. In part, the brief reads:

“In DOMA, Congress did not attempt to make space for religious liberty. … Rather, Congress simply enshrined into law one religious view of marriage, to the exclusion of all others. … Individual religions remain free to define marriage as they see fit, but those religions cannot ask Congress to enshrine their religious preferences as binding law in order to free them from the discomfort of acknowledging the discriminatory character of those religious views.”

Let’s be honest. Marriage equality isn’t a threat to religious freedom. The real threat is asking the government to legitimize some religious views while marginalizing others.

In fact, DOMA currently threatens my religious freedom. Though I’ve been ordained by a denomination that supports full marriage equality, DOMA claims that the weddings that I conduct for same-sex couples are less valid than those I conduct for opposite-sex couples.


It is absolutely unconstitutional for the government to endorse any church’s theology, let alone to use one narrow religious view to define a civil right — especially for those with no religious affiliation.

I celebrate the freedom the Constitution gives my church to operate as it sees fit, and I remind those religious leaders who wield “religious liberty” as a weapon that demanding special treatment at the expense of others is not liberty. It’s oppression.

And ensuring freedom from oppression is the cornerstone of our religious liberty.

The Rev. Alexis Fuller-Wright is pastor at Old South Church, United Church of Christ, Farmington.

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