Unitarian Pastor: If My Religious Liberty is Protected, Then Don’t Refuse My Right to Marry Same-Sex Couples

As I posted a couple of days ago, Kentucky recently passed House Bill 279, allowing for discrimination in the workplace, housing, and even public facilities if the justification involves “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Governor Steve Beshear vetoed the bill, but the state’s other elected official had the numbers to override the veto.

So discrimination against gays, lesbians, atheists, Muslims, and everyone else who doesn’t believe what the Christian majority does is about to become commonplace in the state.

As tragic as that is, I have to appreciate this letter from a local Unitarian pastor in response to the bill:

Rev. Dawn Cooley

As soon as this bill passes into law, I will officially begin conducting weddings and signing marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples, as is standard practice in my religion. It will be my right to act in this manner, in accordance to my faith. If a county clerk refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, I will have him/her cited for burdening my freedom of religion, but I am sure I will be able to find at least one who will understand and sympathize and act in accordance with the law.


The Rev. Dawn Cooley
First Unitarian Church
Louisville, KY

If only more church leaders had that sort of courge and moral conviction.

***Update***: Cooley points out in the comments that her idea won’t work as planned since her state defines marriage as between a man and a woman, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to stop fighting for this cause:

There is a snag to my plan that I have recently been made aware of: KY has a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. And apparently the constitution takes precedence over a statute (like HB279).

That said, I am not giving up.

(Thanks to ShoeUnited for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Theseus

    “I will have him/her cited for burdening my freedom of religion”.

    Hah. Clever Pastor Cooley. Clever. This whole “freedom of religion” stuff is a two way street isn’t it?

    Smart lady. You go.

    • kevin white

      ANd according to the “Law” IT’s perfectly fine for her to do that. This will definitely be fun to watch.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    This pastor has wits and style.

    • DavidMHart

      One might say she does it … coolly?

      Ba-doum ksh.

      • JohnnieCanuck

        Could just be the Dawn of a New Age.

        I’ll be here all week, more’s the pity.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    It’s fucking brilliant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregm766 Gregory Marshall

    Friggin’ awesome.

  • liu

    Everyone in Kentucky start abusing this awful, awful law as much as humanely possible. Show them how much of a shitstorm they’ve created when they legalized religous exemption from the law.

    • Rev. Achron Timeless

      Ahead of you on that one. I got ordained as a minister of the First Church of Atheism just to do so =)

  • Brent

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they would throw a damn fit if someone denied a Christian a job, housing or any other service based on personal beliefs. Like most things, I’m sure the people who passed this law see it as “christians are allowed to discriminate” and nothing more.

    • Theseus

      Yup. I’m sure that they didn’t envision this biting them in the ass.

    • Stev84

      It’s like voucher schools in Louisiana where Repubs are now freaking out some money might go to Muslim schools.

      • Theseus

        Yeah. “Religious Freedom” with the the exception of Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, Unitarians, Jews, OTHER Christians…..

  • Valerie

    I’m not gay and not religious in the least, but my eyes welled up with tears at how humanely Rev. Cooley treats others. She embodies the ethics that every pastor and politician should aspire to have.

  • benanov

    This twisting-the-law-against-itself play reminds me of the GPL, although it’s not twisting a law against itself, it’s twisting one law against another.

    Still admirable.

  • Stev84

    Usually I don’t like that argument. Generally it’s just more conflation of civil and religious marriage, which need to be separated more clearly. Nothing is preventing her from holding a wedding ceremony for a gay couple. It just doesn’t have any legal effect.

    But in this context, about Kentucky’s silly discrimination law, it’s great :)

  • Sven2547

    Haha, yup. I’ve been making this same argument for some time now.
    The Free Exercise Clause can’t be used to DENY people from doing something (like marrying someone of the same sex).

  • Smiles

    I love this… What happens when two people hold strong beliefs in opposition to one another? I believe that no one has the authority to limit my freedoms; particularly in relation to my health, mind, and body.

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    I have to wonder if a legal challenge along those lines would work out, if she was willing, it could go to the Supreme Court. It’d either overturn the law or force them to allow same sex marriage.

  • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt Eggler

    The True Spirit of the Universe revealed to me that Jesus is the source of all evil and that the sole purpose of christian religion is to bring about the downfall of humanity and has instructed me to preach this truth. So anyone who chooses to follow me in Kentucky will have to deny service to Christians. We love them all, of course, but cannot abide their sinful ways; I’m sure the people of Kentucky will understand and be ok with that…

  • ByTor

    So awesome.

  • newavocation

    Wait till they begin to not only discriminate against gays, jews, muslims or atheists but other Christians. Catholics and Protestants have a fine tradition of peacefully living together.

  • Wild Rumpus

    I am proud to be an atheist and a Unitarian. Every time I read about UUs in the news, it’s something positive like this. Christians would be better off ditching the 10 commandments and following the UU seven principles, the first which is that we believe in “The inherent worth and dignity of every person”.

    • Theseus

      Yeah and there’s that sticky little fact that some of the founders were Unitarians as well. Of course in the alternate reality of David Barton American history, all the founders were Evangelical Christians.

      • 3lemenope

        Their (Jefferson, Adams, J. Q. Adams, etc,) unitarianism and the (much) more recent Unitarian-Universalism are pretty distinct in both doctrine and practice.

        • Theseus

          True, but it was sure as hell different from evangelical Christianity which was my main point.

          BTW isn’t the jury still out on whether Jefferson should be put in the Unitarian camp or the Deist camp?

          • 3lemenope

            Oh, quite so. I was just pushing back a bit (and not necessarily at you, just in general) at the common trope that if things have the same name they must be the same thing. It gets particularly frustrating talking about party politics, with party ideology not being at all stable over time with party identity.

            And yeah, it is really hard to pigeon-hole Jefferson. At the very least, though, it was pretty clear he at least rejected the trinitarian concept, and so at least was a unitarian in sentiment. How much further he delved into heresy we’ll probably never know.

            • Theseus

              If I am recalling some of the many quotes and passages on religion that can be safely attributed to him, he was quite clear that he was a “true” Christian in philosophy only ( basically a Jesus fan), and he pretty much rejected all the supernatural stuff. Also, wasn’t he the one that said the Gospel of John was “the ravings of a lunatic”?

              • Theseus

                Sorry, I think it was Revelations. John is the traditional author, so it threw me.

                • 3lemenope

                  Yeah, it was Revelation. Like Franklin, what makes it hard to pin down is that over the course of their lives they’ve said/written many things all over the map, from things that sound pretty close to orthodoxy to things that sound agnostic.

                • Theseus

                  Yeah and it’s natural to modify and re-think viewpoints during the course of one’s life. However I think this is by degree. Jefferson completely rejecting his critical thought process later in life and embracing nonsense, would be a huge leap across a chasm. Part of the con job that guys like Barton lay down to his flock is that at least during the most important phase of their lives, these guys were devout Christians; this is simply not true.

                  Personally I could not find anything resembling an awakening or “born again” moment with Jefferson that he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior in later life and became a believer. Also, the “Jefferson Bible” is a huge refutation of all this. If one is going to go through the effort to cut out the miracles and supernatural stuff in the Gospels and then paste it back together…wow that’s a helluva statement.

  • Jon

    Pretty sure the Mormon polygamy sects have already tried that gambit.

    • Drew M.

      With a law that hasn’t gone into effect yet?

      • http://twitter.com/KevinSagui Kevin Sagui

        No, back when Mormon-hunting was sanctioned.

    • beatonfam

      I thought the Mormon polygamists mostly got in trouble for tax evasion and welfare fraud. They have all these wives but can’t support the children so they register as single mothers and collect welfare since the government won’t recognize the marriages anyway. I could be wrong, though.

      • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

        I believe that’s a more recent development, that goes after fundamentalist Mormons.

    • The Watcher

      They did. It led to one of my favorite rulings, Reynolds vs United States, which held that no one can hide behind religion to make themselves exept from a law. In other words, this statute may be unconstitutional.

  • http://www.facebook.com/billhaines.net Bill Haines
  • Rev. Achron Timeless

    I… wow. I mean, I’m involved with a project near that church, drive past it a couple times a month as a result. Had no idea it was ran by a badass.

    • Theseus

      True dat!

      She deservedly has a lifetime worth of street cred from Humanists, social Libertarians, and secularists because of this.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lynn-Mershon-Calvin/1440302546 Lynn Mershon Calvin

      She’s a pretty typical UU minister.

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.uncoolmom Cary Whitman

    Darn those Unitarians! They keep destroying the argument that all religions are evil!

    But seriously, they have been a very much appreciated voice of reason around here for longer than I can remember. It’s good to know that they are doing such good things in other places as well.

    Thank you, Rev. Cooley, for standing up for the oppressed, being willing to be an activist for a cause you believe in, and for finding a silver lining in a truly awful law. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, maybe Kentucky will become the next state to legalize gay marriage!

  • beatonfam

    I believe that she will follow through on this threat and hope you keep us posted on the results.

  • http://twitter.com/WoodwindsRock Emma

    I love this. It is always said by the Religious Right that if same-sex marriage is allowed it will somehow have a negative effect on their “freedom of religion”. I have never been able to figure out what in the world they’re talking about. However, BANNING same-sex marriage DOES have to do with the freedom of religion. Why? Because it’s putting one religion’s supposed beliefs into law, which is essentially enforcing that religion over everybody in the country. Which is not in the least bit fair, because not even Christians have an unanimous opinion over same-sex marriage. Many agree with it.

    I don’t know how same-sex marriage opponents can lack so much foresight to see how what they’re trying to do is so wrong. It’s a blatant violation of separation of church and state, and it is only harmful to the freedom of religion, not helpful. But of course, when freedom of religion to you means “freedom to be my exact brand of Christian” then I can see where the problem arises.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dawn.s.cooley Dawn Skjei Cooley

    Thanks, all, for the kind words and support, and to the Friendly Atheist for picking my blog up.

    There is a snag to my plan that I have recently been made aware of: KY has a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. And apparently the constitution takes precedence over a statute (like HB279).

    That said, I am not giving up.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      That’s a constitutional amendment that needs challenging. It violates the Federal 14th Amendment, I’ve heard it argued.

      I like the set of your jib, Ms. Cooley.

    • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

      I’m starting to think UU is awesome. Too bad Spain won’t give them official recognition.

    • maddogdelta

      Also, that means that there are 2 laws in conflict, the Man: Woman marriage law, and the “sincerely held belief” law.

      When it goes to court, a judge will have to rule which one is unconstitutional…. too bad both can’t lose..

  • roberthughmclean

    Will this law perhaps allow a non-believer who is somewhat negative about religion and its nonsense to discriminate against an overt christian? I find their silliness “offensive” and believe it’s a negative, so why not?

  • rustygh

    Get the fuçk out of Kentucky
    That place reeks of imbeciles!

  • Georginafs

    Having only ever suffered under gender discrimination (female engineer in Europe?) – and a few stereotypes about blonds, I cannot claim to truely understand all the difficulties.

    But surely, no one would wish to be married by a bigot? Or work for a mysoganist? Of give there custom/money to a racist?

    Perhaps it is time to have a register – rating google phamasists for example: refuse the morning after pill to a rape victim with a prescription – rated down to bycott!

    • Georginafs

      profuse apologies – had spell checker set wrong – again!

    • 3lemenope

      Not everyone is spoiled for choice. I don’t, strictly speaking, want to work for a misogynist, or a racist, but if they are the only ones around who are offering jobs that pay enough for my daily bread and rent, I’m not going to starve and freeze in protest.

  • altoonachick

    Will be happy to donate to her legal fund in order to fight the good fight.

  • grannygrey50

    Thank you, Rev. Cooley! I have had, as have many Christians, to walk away from a Christian church because of their unchristian attitude toward anyone not exactly like them. As a former Episcopalian, now a UU, there was a home for many of us, who feel that all human beings should be treated equally in all ways. As a person whose roots are among the founding roots of Kentucky, I am also sickened at the attitude of Kentuckians. They seemed to have forgotten WHY many of our families came to KY (and mine to just south of Louisville) in the 1770′s. They were leaving religious persecution behind; now, the state has begun persecution of those who don’t believe in a particular “Christian” way.

  • John Alexander Harman

    I’ve thought for a while that there ought to be lawsuits seeking to overturn states’ same-sex marriage bans on Free Exercise of Religion grounds, as well as Equal Protection. Maybe Pastor Cooley could get together with some ACLU, Americans United, and/or Lambda Legal lawyers and file one against Kentucky’s constitutional denial of marriage equality.