Your Mail Order Ally

Timothy Kincaid

April 16th, 2009

You’ve probably don’t recognize the name of the Universal Life Church, but you have heard of them and may even know one of its ministers. The ULC is that organization that will ordain you as minister for free over the internet without any religious training or belief requirements.

What you may not know is that this church is not a gimmick. They are a real church with real congregants and a real belief system. And part of their beliefs are that everyone is ordained by God to be a minister and that your religious values and ideals – as long as they are not violent – are as valid as anyone else’s (though much of their ministry has the language and a theological association with Christian traditions). Which is why they have for decades been providing mail-order ordination.

For the most part, the ULC has been non-political, entering into the fray only when the rights of their ministers or ministry have been challenged. But now the ULC has a cause that they believe is worth fighting for: you.

The Universal Life Church Monastery ( has announced a legal defense campaign that will take action in all states that have enacted unconstitutional same-sex sacramental marriage restraints. The Universal Life Church Monastery reports that “States that deny ministers the religious right to perform the sacrament of marriage, regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation, do so in violation of the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution.”

It’s not clear what actions, if any, that the ULC will engage in. But it is encouraging that they have begun to look into the constitutionality of states denying recognition of sacraments solely based on the doctrines of those denied.

I’ve long felt that laws which recognize the marriage sacraments of the local Southern Baptist Church but refuse to recognize those of the local Congregational Church were likely in violation of the Constitution. But because more people attend churches that are anti-gay (including legislators), they feel comfortable in declaring that pro-gay churches should be denied equality under the law.

And this has become even more clear to me when I note that nearly all of the argument in favor of excluding same-sex marriages performed by a Congregational Church were based on religious doctrine. Virtually all of those who stand to speak in opposition to marriage equality do so motivated by the desire to encode their religious doctrines into law.

This isn’t the first time churches have objected to inequality. More than a few Unitarian Universalist or United Church of Christ ministers have announced that they would not solemnize opposite-sex marriages for as long as the state banned them from solemnizing same-sex marriages.

So I’ve been waiting for the day when a denomination would announce that they were going to court to sue for religious freedom. I just was kinda was hoping that it would be the United Methodists or the UCC rather than the church of mail-order ministers.


April 16th, 2009

There can always be amicus curiae…


April 16th, 2009

Just to be clear, I believe the UCC has made this legal argument before but has never sued over it. They have, however, expressed it in the briefs they have filed with state courts on cases regarding marriage equality.

Stefano A

April 16th, 2009

… “States that deny ministers the religious right to perform the sacrament of marriage, regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation, do so in violation of the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution.”

I doubt if this will fly far for the simple reason that the argument is a falacy. Ministers are not denied the “right to perform the sacrament of marriage. They are perfectly free to perform the religious sacrament of marriage for anyone they choose. What is denied is to act as an agent of the state.

Stefano A

April 16th, 2009

… What is denied is to act as an agent of the state.

In that regard, no minister is afforded recognition to act on behalf of the state regarding the action of civil licensing for recognition of the marriage regardless of their theological belief.


April 16th, 2009

Setano I don’t know if thats true or not. Because, atleast in CA, ministers sign the document after performing the ceremony. If a person is not ordained they have to go to the county clerk and be registered as one who can perform ceremonies. So in a sense it is a civil act. But I’m no lawyer.

Stefano A

April 16th, 2009


Because, atleast in CA, ministers sign the document after performing the ceremony.

That’s exactly the point. If the argument is that they are denied the “right to perform the sacrament”, then that is not true. Any minister can perform the sacrament for anyone they or their church approve. What is prevented and regulated is the ability as to when they (clergy) are authorized to act as an agent of the state regarding the civil recognition.

This is the very argument that is used by marriage equality to lay to rest the myths that same sex marriages would force clergy to perform same sex ceremonies. The state says absolutely nothing regarding the performance of the sacramental ceremony excepting as in Iowa when the state points out dictating what ceremonies clergy can perform lies outside the realm of state or federal law.


April 16th, 2009

I got ordained a few years ago just so I could put “Rev.” in front of my name, for irony’s sake.


April 17th, 2009

I don’t know about this; it may lead to unintentional problems like what when Christian groups sued for the right to have religious clubs in school (thus allowing for all clubs including GSAs).

Hypothetically, if it was given that the state would recognize marriages decided upon by religious organizations, would that allow groups that religiously believe in polygamous marriages also have to be recognized?

I know the knee-jerk reaction to that statement, and I for one do not support marriages made between more than two people for non-religious reasons, but it is a consideration for this idea.

I think it would get gummed up in legislatures/courts for similar reasons. How does one argue that religiously preformed marriages for same-sex couples be allowed but not religiously preformed marriages for multiple partners?

Also, what about agnostics/atheists?
Having no religious affiliation to speak of, would they be able to obtain same-sex marriages under the state as well?

I have a lot more questions than answers and I am curious to hear what others think.

Rick M

April 17th, 2009

Hi H.F.W.,

You wondered about if the state would recognize marriages decided upon by religious organizations. That’s not quite what we are talking about here. The issue is that the state recognizes marriages between two people, but they put conditions on who those two people can be, and the policy is not equally administered to all “couples”. For example, as long as the couple are a man and a woman, and are of “legal age” they can marry. The discrimination comes in when they say that two men of legal age can not marry, nor can two women of legal age.

As far as polygamy goes, even though it is illegal, it is non-discriminatory in that the law is applied equally to everyone.

As far as atheists go, the laws now don’t state anything about religion in the civil ceremony (the one performed by the state). What the issue is, would be to make the state’s laws gender neutral, so that it would apply to more than just a man and a woman of legal age.

The flip side of the issue is one that I find quite fascinating, and that would also settle the issue altogether. That would be changing the laws so that states and the federal government were not allowed to recognize marriage at all. No benefits for it in any way shape or form. No marriage rights for anyone — just treat couples the same as individuals as far as taxes, inheritance, hospital visitation, custody, and on and on… If it were marriage for all, or marriage for no one as the two choices, which would we all choose?

It looks as if California may go that way with the supreme court ruling. There is a chance that they will halt the state’s recognition of marriage altogether — what kind of wrench would that throw into the system?


April 17th, 2009

Timothy, as I read your article regarding ULC, it was inspiring and revealed the core beliefs of a church that isn’t mired in dogma. I got a bit excited thinking, what a great stand for an organization to take. So why did you end such a great article by dismissing the church as mail-order ministers? The content of the article led me to believe that the church might be an effective tool against discrimination. But then you ended the article so dismissively. So, what is your opinion, are they a worthy opponent against the status quo?


April 17th, 2009

Congregational churches, with few exceptions are UCC’s. They joined the Evangelical and Reformed churches in in 1957 to form the United Church of Christ.

I’m the Moderator (like head deacon) of my local UCC. Our, mostly straight, congregation passed a policy UNANIMOUSLY that ended the performance of civil marriages by our pastors at our campus or anywhere else or by anyone else on our campus. Couples have to go to a JP or Notary to get the civil marriage and then they come for a religious blessing at the church. Gay couples AND straight couples can also be religiously married at our church without being civilly married.

We decided that this would continue to be our policy even after gay marriage becomes legal in our state because the issue of SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE is something that’s very important to us.

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