Collins: Why I Will No Longer Sign Charleston County Marriage Licenses


This originally appeared at Drew’s Views and is cross-posted here.

With the news today that Charleston County Probate Judge Irving Condon will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, I have decided that I will no longer sign marriage licenses issued by his office. Although I actually live in Berkeley County, where the authorities are not unilaterally defying the Constitution of South Carolina , the parish that I serve is located in Charleston County.

When I read of his decision I seriously considered engaging in civil disobedience — of officiating at weddings regardless of whether or not the couple had a license or not. While some clergy will include phrases like “By the authority vested in me by the State of South Carolina…” when pronouncing a new couple man and wife, I’ve never done so in the marriages at which I have officiated in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Texas, for several reasons, among them: 1. I am a Minister of the Gospel and get my authority from the Church, not from the State; and 2. Those words are not contained in the Book of Common Prayer . A cursory check of the Book of Common Prayer and the various Constitutions and Canons to which I am accountable revealed the following:.

The Book of Common Prayer of the Reformed Episcopal Church contains the following, identical to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
The laws respecting Matrimony, whether by publishing the Banns in
churches, or by License, being different in the several States, every
Minister is left to the direction of those laws, in every thing that
regards the civil contract between the parties.
And when the Banns are published, it shall be in the following form:
I publish the Banns of Marriage between N. of ___, and N. of ___. If any
of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not
be joined together in holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first
(second or third) time of asking. — Rubrics at the end of the form for the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony
Ministers of this Church shall be careful to observe the law of the State or Province governing the civil
contract of marriage in the place where the service shall be performed, and they shall conform to the laws of this
Church governing the solemnization of HolyMatrimony.– Canon 34, Section 1
The Clergy shall ascertain that the man and woman, parties to the marriage, have a valid marriage license. — Title III, Canon 7, Section 3, Article 4
I am a priest under authority and while the extent to which I care whether or not the government of Charleston County has licensed a marriage that I officiate has been dramatically diminished by this foolhardiness, I have to respect the law of the Church. It’s worth noting that even if I were inclined to conduct a same-sex union — and I’m not — I am forbidden to do so by the Canons of both the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America and, in fact, my Diocese unanimous passed a resolution clarifying that just last month.

I won’t sign licenses issued by Charleston County because of what happens when a clergyman does so — something of which few people are aware. When I officiate a wedding I do so as an officer of the Church, but when the service is over and I gather with the newly married couple and witnesses and sign the license I have actually taken off my clerical hat (my Canterbury cap?) and donned that of an ex officio marriage registrar, performing duties authorized as a courtesy by the State. My fear — and I don’t think it unreasonable in light of some court decisions in recent litigation — is that I could potentially be opening myself up to action if I refused to perform that duty for same-sex couples. Because of that, I’ll require couples in Charleston County and any other jurisdictions that have granted same-sex marriage licences to provide me a copy of a license signed by a judge, notary public, or some other civil official before I’ll officiate at the religious service.

Alan Wilson, the Attorney General of South Carolina has announced his intentions to seek a stay from the South Carolina Supreme Court  to prevent Judge Condon from issuing these licences; I hope that he is successful — the coming days will certainly be interesting to watch as this plays out.

Drew Collins

Drew Collins

Drew Collins is a graduate of Georgia Military College, Coastal Carolina, and Erskine Seminary. He is vicar of the Church of the Atonement, a Reformed Episcopal Parish in the Anglican Church in North America, in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The opinions expressed are his own.
Drew Collins