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A minister's most unlikely marriage vow

MARRIAGE IS THE subject of the Rev. Carolyn Patierno's sermon this Valentine's weekend, though the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation in New London will hear the minister explain her commitment not to sign off on wedding ceremonies again.

For Patierno, the decision is a matter of principle, and not merely the affirmation of the separation of church and state. "I've always understood my role as a minister to be religious," she said this week. "I help couples create a service that is reflective of their religious lives and their commitment to each other."

"I don't see it as a civic role, especially in the case of a state that is not extending the same privileges and rights to all adult couples who choose to be joined that way."

There it is, succinct, sincere and deftly framed, and a courageous political stand. Since all loving couples, heterosexual and homosexual alike, are not allowed by law to marry in Connecticut, Patierno will no longer sign certificates emblematic of the inequality.

I admire her for her position, lonely as it may be. She said she's talked with another member of the clergy in this region about it, but he told her that he is far from ready to follow.

She has married one couple since she made her decision last spring, and is working with four others who plan to wed in the coming year. Pragmatically, Patierno's declining to sign marriage certificates means couples who are wed by her will have to go before a justice of the peace or judge or magistrate to have the marriage legitimized in the eyes of the state. A signed certificate has to be turned in to the city or town clerk of the municipality in which the wedding occurred within a month of the ceremony.

It is an inconvenience, at the least, but Patierno has the right congregation to abide by her, one she describes as progressive. She's already discussed her stance with the church's board of trustees and deemed this Sunday, the day after Valentine's Day, the appropriate time to tell the congregation.

In Patierno's personal life, there has been no such ceremony. Raised a Roman Catholic and ordained a minister in 2001, Patierno has been in a longtime relationship with a woman named Kate Stafford. They are raising a child, now 11, whom they adopted when she was 3.

Patierno and her partner have not had a formal commitment ceremony, though when they lived in California they were registered domestic partners.

The president of All Souls, April Posson of East Haddam, attended last Sunday's rally in Hartford in support of same-sex unions. Posson told a reporter that her partner, Shirley Konczyk, could not obtain paid leave to care for Posson,who had uterine cancer, under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

"There are so many protections you have when you are married," said Patierno on the same day Gov. John G. Rowland predicted attempts by state lawmakers to pass same-sex marriage legislation this year would fail.

Rowland also would support an amendment to the state constitution restricting marriage to a man and a woman.

By a simple stroke, or more to the point, the absence of a pen stroke, Patierno is making her own stand on marriage. Couples coming to her accept that. They still want to be wed by her, to be part of a religious service for their loved ones to witness their vows. But to satisfy the state, someone else will have to stamp the couple and then sign.

This is the opinion of Steven Slosberg