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Pastors opt out of performing gay marriages

County clerks say ministers on reference lists dwindling by Bill Bowden | July 13, 2015 at 4:41 a.m.

Several ministers have told the Boone County clerk that they "would prefer not to" marry same-sex couples and want to be removed from a reference list kept in the clerk's office in Harrison.

The clerk used to provide a list of a dozen people who would perform marriages.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 26 that same-sex marriage is legal, the Boone County reference list has dwindled to two.

"The issue with the list is they had to be willing to marry anyone," said Boone County Clerk Crystal Graddy.

Because her office has to abide by the law, Graddy said she wants to recommend only wedding officiants who will perform any and all legal marriages, including those for same-sex couples.

Graddy said she heard from two officiants before the Supreme Court decision who wanted to be removed from the list if the court ruled in favor of gay marriage. Employees of the clerk's office then called the remainder of those on the list and discovered that about 10 of them wanted to be removed.

D.R. "Barney" Hickman of Harrison, pastor of the Newton County Cowboy Church, was one of those who asked for his name to be taken off the list.

"I don't have anything against the alternative lifestyle people. ... I love the person, but I don't like the sin," said Hickman, who is a Southern Baptist. "The same sex should not lie together is what the Bible says. The way I read my Bible, and I read it every day, it's an abomination against God to do that. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of that lifestyle. As a Christian, I will not perform one of those [wedding ceremonies]."

Freda Kimmey of Harrison asked to remain on the list. She's a Baptist minister and retired professional counselor.

"If you're really a spiritual person, it's all about love and embracing each other, regardless of labels," she said. "You need to be authentic in order to live a fulfilled life, and being authentic doesn't give us license to judge others' authenticity."

Kimmey said she'll perform same-sex ceremonies, but the couple will have to undergo some counseling first, which she requires before performing any marriage service.

"I require that we meet together for a premarital counseling session," Kimmey said. "It doesn't matter if you're same sex or not."

Kimmey said she's never performed a marriage service for a gay couple.

Three couples called her during a recent week wanting to get married. After she told them about her counseling requirement, none called back.

The Rev. Russell S. Morgan, owner of the Little Bell Wedding Chapel in Bellefonte, also asked to stay on the list, but Morgan said he may refer gay couples to other ministers.

Morgan said he has performed more than 10,000 weddings since his first one in 1983, but he has never done one for a gay couple.

Morgan said he doesn't perform ceremonies for every couple who contacts him, and it'll be the same for gay couples. If he feels another minister could do a better job with the service, Morgan will refer the couple to someone else.

"I do services that put a tear in your eye and happy in your heart," he said. "I don't know where I'm going with this right now because this is all new to me. ... Our proximity to Eureka Springs is not far at all. They have an abundance of people over there who would jump on this like a chicken on a June bug. Who would do a better service, me or them? Right now, I'd have to give it to them."

Morgan said he started as a "mail-order minister" and is now ordained through the Holy Episcopal Church.

Graddy said no same-sex couples have applied for a marriage licence yet in Boone County. More than 40 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples in neighboring Carroll County, where Eureka Springs is located.

Graddy said she was unaware of Kimmey's requirement for pre-marriage counseling and that Morgan might refer gay couples to other ministers.

"They have to be willing to marry anyone to be on the list," Graddy said. "We may end up with no list at all."

The Boone County clerk's office charges $55 for marriage licenses. Officiants on the list in the clerk's office have to be willing to marry people for free if the couple says they can't afford to pay. Couples have 60 days after getting a license to get married and have the licensed signed by the officiant.

Under Arkansas Code Annotated 9-11-213, those who may solemnize marriages include ministers, justices of the peace, judges and some former judges, mayors and the governor.

Carroll County Clerk Jamie Correia said she doesn't keep a list of officiants for people looking to get married. She refers them to the area Chamber of Commerce instead.

In Garland County, the clerk's office had a list of 16 officiants on its website, but County Clerk Sarah Smith removed the list Thursday, at least for the time being.

Smith said she knew of only two people on the list who she was sure would do same-sex marriages.

Smith said she keeps a separate list of about four local officiants who will perform all legal marriages, including same-sex marriages. Two of the people on that list were also on the list of 16 online.

Like Graddy, Smith said she doesn't want to recommend a minister who won't perform same-sex marriages.

"My practice is if you're not going to do both, I'm not going to call you to do one or the other," Smith said. "If they won't do both, I don't call them anymore."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson sent out a news release last week saying the U.S. Supreme Court ruling doesn't apply to religious organizations.

"It is important to note that it affects government action only," Hutchinson said. "It has no bearing on private individuals or institutions. The ability of pastors, churches, and private individuals to follow their own convictions on marriage is protected under the First Amendment and has not been affected by the Supreme Court's ruling."

Metro on 07/13/2015

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