Books stacked up to the rafters line the perimeter of Rev. Gail Marriner’s study. “It’s an occupational hazard,” she says. “When you’re talking in front of people every week, you better have fresh material to share with them.”
Her church, Unitarian Universalist—which was also involved in the civil rights and feminist movements—has openly embraced a fresh topic on the minds of many New Mexicans, that of same-sex marriage, since 1984.
“It is a big issue within our church; we’re just way ahead of the curve,” she says. Since taking the reins as head of Santa Fe’s congregation in May 2011, however, Marriner has eschewed signing marriage licenses for any unions, same-sex or otherwise.
“I’ve been in ministry 18 years,” Marriner says, “and the full time that I’ve been in ministry, my association has been doing rites of passage for gay and lesbian peoples and transgender and bisexual folks when they have wanted to marry,” she explains.
Though Marriner describes those ceremonies as “wonderful and joyful,” she decided to take a defiant stance until the word “marriage” applies to everyone in her flock.
“The place that I get tangled, in this point in time, is that as a Unitarian Universalist minister, when I sign a marriage license for a mixed-sex couple, I give them access to 1,400 benefits under the law,” she says. “I have not signed a single marriage certificate since I’ve been here, and I won’t—until I can do that for any couple in my congregation that chooses to marry.”
Instead, the Harvard Divinity School grad refers couples from outside the congregation who wish to marry to other local UU clergy. Those from within her congregation who long to do so get a sit-down talk with the Minister explaining her motives.
“They’ve been willing to go along. It’s not that they can’t get married; it’s a statement of conscience,” Marriner says, adding that granting heterosexual couples those rights not available to their same-sex counterparts would be “playing favorites.”
It may not always be thus: On Thursday, Jan. 31, the New Mexico House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee approved House Joint Resolution 3, which would allow voters to weigh in on the issue of same-sex marriage on the 2014 election cycle.
The proposal, which Marriner calls “fabulous,” must first clear two other committees before it reaches the 70-member House for a vote. “I would support it 100 percent,” she says.
Until then, Marriner remains firm, citing two core principles within her faith tradition: that the nature of God is love, and the inherent worth and dignity of every person is a result of being created in God’s likeness.
“The words are not just men, not just women, not just straight people; every single person on the planet is created in likeness to God,” she says, “and that likeness to God is to be honored.”
Marriner’s wish for the state’s future is clear.
“My hope is that I will be able to act on behalf of the state of New Mexico,” she says, “and sign those marriage licenses for any couple in my congregation who wishes to formally proclaim that they want to be married and share their lives together.”