Chicago Priest Protests Same-Sex Marriage, Won’t Sign Civil Marriage Licenses

The Rev. Patrick Henry Reardon of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago says the government can define and sanction marriage on its terms but that he’ll no longer act as an agent of the government by signing civil licenses. (Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune)

The Rev. Patrick Henry Reardon of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago says the government can define and sanction marriage on its terms but that he’ll no longer act as an agent of the government by signing civil licenses. (Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune)

By Manya Brachear Pashman
Chicago Tribune

Source: The Chicago Tribune

The Rev. Patrick Henry Reardon is getting out of the civil marriage business.

The Orthodox Christian priest on Chicago’s North Side says the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalizes same-sex matrimony reinforces his recent decision to no longer sign licenses that make marriages valid in the eyes of the state and now the nation.

That doesn’t mean Reardon won’t do weddings. On the contrary, he gladly will bless the union of a Christian man and woman and perform the sacrament of marriage. But those couples must go to a courthouse if they want to be legally bound. He says he can no longer in good conscience serve as an agent of the state.

“The strange situation in the United States is clergymen not only act in the name of the church, they also act in the name of the state,” said Reardon, the pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago’s Irving Park community. “The clergymen wear two hats. I’m making a political statement in this sense: I’m accusing the state of usurping the role of God. What I’m saying is, ‘I don’t agree with you and I’m going to change the way I do things. I will not act in your name. … I will not render unto Caesar that which belongs to God.'”

The unusual protest has inspired other Christian clergy — Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant — to consider following his lead, a shift Reardon hopes will lead the nation to a different model of marriage, one that no longer deputizes clergy to sign marriage licenses and, in his opinion, effectively uphold the state’s definition of marriage.

In Illinois, couples typically go to the county clerk to apply for a marriage license no more than 60 days before they wed. Whoever officiates at the ceremony signs the license as a witness. The county then records the marriage. The couple also has the option of exchanging vows in front of a judge. That’s the only option now for Reardon’s parishioners if they want to be married in the eyes of the law.

Archbishop Blase Cupich, Chicago’s Roman Catholic leader, said in a recent interview that the idea has not come up among America’s Catholic bishops or Chicago priests, but he pointed out that a “two-tiered type of marriage” already exists in some places, including Europe. Regardless of who signs the license, he added, there’s already a clear distinction between the two in the U.S.

“Civil marriage doesn’t make people promise and keep the promise of permanence because of the ease of divorce,” Cupich said. “We ask people to be married until death do you part and we really mean that. … It’s important to recognize we already have a difference between civil marriage and church marriage because of the promises.”

Indeed, the government’s view of marriage as a legally binding contract already contradicts the Orthodox Christian understanding of marriage as a sacrament — blessing a union that already existed because it was created by God. And therein lies the problem, Reardon said.

“Government has no authority whatsoever to alter that,” Reardon said. “Whence a judge, magistrate or a justice of the peace does the ceremony, that’s just a legal act. As a priest I will no longer step in and serve in that function.”

Reardon, who was raised Roman Catholic and converted to the Episcopal faith, embraced Orthodox Christianity in the 1980s when Episcopalians began to change their prayer book and ordain gay clergy. He chose the Antiochian Orthodox Church because it was particularly open to converts. In fact, three-fourths of the members of the church in North America are American born, as are nearly all of Reardon’s parishioners. That’s not necessarily the case in the roughly two dozen ethnic Orthodox churches where many parishioners have immigrated to the U.S. from countries with a particular Orthodox patriarch.

But the theology of marriage is the same in all branches, said the Rev. Johannes Jacobse, president of the American Orthodox Institute. It’s considered to be much more than a partnership.

“We see the sacramental as the completion of the natural,” said Jacobse, also an Antiochian Orthodox priest. “We see marriage as a means of salvation, as a way one achieves salvation. It’s not just a contract or agreement. It certainly is that. But it’s more.”

Clergy on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate support Reardon’s boycott, though based on a slightly different rationale.

The Rev. Tony Jones, an evangelical author and proponent of same-sex marriage, has been advocating for a separation of religious and civil marriage since 2010.

“This social change happened a lot faster than anybody predicted,” said Jones, who teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. “When I declared that I would no longer sign marriage licenses and encouraged other clergy to do the same, it was an attempt to actually buy the church some freedom to say we can sacralize a same-sex union and we don’t need the state to legalize it.

“The other reason I did it was on behalf of people like Father Reardon,” Jones added. “I thought it would buy conservatives some time and some latitude and they could say the government can do whatever the government wants to do regarding marriage and weddings. But in our church we’re going to have a different standard.”

He said most clergy members he has surveyed agree in principle that they should not serve as arms of the government, but signing that certificate has become so much a part of the American marriage ritual that it’s difficult for them to see an alternative.

Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, said he doesn’t foresee such a boycott in Chicago. He even questions whether it’s legal.

“I can’t imagine any of our priests doing that,” he said. “It hasn’t happened yet and I don’t anticipate it happening to make a political statement,” he said.

Jacobse said Reardon is the first Orthodox priest to take such a strong a political stand. But the recent Supreme Court ruling has sparked a discussion among other brethren, he said.

“It was a bold move on Father Patrick’s part,” Jacobse said. “A lot of priests are wondering and asking the same thing. To remove all conflict between the church and the state is to go the path that Father Reardon has chosen to go on. I anticipate more priests are going to go that way.”

Reardon emphasizes that he does not discourage couples from seeking licenses and legitimacy in the eyes of the law. But having that certificate will no longer be a condition of getting married at All Saints.

“If you want the tax advantages of marriage recognized by the state, you’re going to have to do something else about it, like go down to a justice of the peace,” he said. “If you don’t want that, that’s perfectly OK. I’m not going to require that at this parish.”


  1. Michael Bauman says

    Such actions if undertaken in unison at the direction of our bishops
    might help for awhile. Thomas More tried a similar tactic. It is not about being an agent of the state it is about being either an enemy of the state or its friend.

    Refusing to do the will of the state does not necessarily mean one is doing the will of God.

  2. M. Stankovich says

    An excellent point, Michael Bauman. This is “church gimmickry” after the fact, and I am sad to see this continuation of being baited to the level of the state. If they even take this seriously, they will enact something to side-step the need for the priest to sign anything at all. “Have it your way.” All of this post-fact clamor (e.g. Which bishop did or did not issue a “statement” & how quickly) is indicative of a significant lack of faith that our God is a Just Judge and a jealous God, and will not suffer the oppression of the righteous. What will we do? This is only the beginning.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

      Do you understand what Fr. Reardon is proposing? This is not “baiting” and there will no need to “side-step” the State since by refusing to sign the civil licence the relationship has already been cut. This shouldn’t make any difference to the State at all, thus no “baiting.”

      As for God and the oppression of the righteous, true of course but maybe not in the way that you think. In the Soviet Union many of the righteous died in the Gulags.

      • Fr Gregory says

        If we wish to cut our relationship with the State then we should simply refuse to marry sacramental those who have married civilly. Unlike Anglican clergy in the UK (or Orthodox clergy in Grece), clergy in America are not agents of the State because in there is no established Church in the US. In signing a marriage license the priest, together with the best man and maid of honor, is a witness to a CIVIL contract entered into by the bride and groom. While the State now (wrongly) accepts such contracts between same sex couples this doesn’t invalidate the civil contract made by a man and a woman.

        I would argue that as long as the Church allows baptized Orthodox Christians to enter civil marriages the relationship between Church and State is not cut. No the only way to cut the relationship between Church and State on this issue is for the Church to refuse to marry sacramentally those who have married civilly. I’m not proposing this but it seems to me the only way to cut the relationship between Church and State at least as it pertains to marriage. Maybe I’ve missed something and if I have I’m open to correction.

        In Christ,


        • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

          The time to stop cooperating with the state is when the state tells you to do something wrong. That hasn’t happened yet, so what do we accomplish by stopping cooperation now? Maybe I also have missed something, but I’ve asked this question a few times now on different sites, and I still haven’t heard an answer.

      • M. Stankovich says

        You have seriously misconstrued my point. I am sorry to say that I would not contend the Orthodox are capable of “baiting” anyone at this point, but are only capable of being baited. Again, attempting to beat the civil authorities at their own game by refusing to sign these silly forms is ludicrous. And ultimately to what end? To openly demonstrate by “action” the forthrightness of our convictions? “Pardon me, you are who again, from what church?” Please. Orthodox priest of every jurisdiction have been performing marriages with couples they knew in their hearts would be divorced within several years, rather than take a moral stand and refusing to participate. Now you would have us believe that that because of this recent SCOTUS decision we are “born-again hardcore” on the theology of marriage? Let’s do a little epidemiological research here, shall we, “Christian Marriage in the time of Obergefell v. Hodges”: We’ll look at all marriages conducted in the Antiochian jurisdiction and track them for 5 years to see the number of ensuing divorces. Likewise, we’ll ask our priests – if, in fact, we can enlist any participants – their honest opinion prior to the marriage of their perceived outcome. How is it that this “blaspheme” against the icon of what St. Paul refers to as the example, par excellence, of the unity of Christ and His Spotless Bride, the Church seems to distress no one?

        As to your second point, you seem to have a way of limiting my capacity to appreciate that our God acts as He wishes and according to His wisdom, not according to the wisdom of men. While I may never live live to actually see the Justice of our God on this earth, I accept His promise with my whole heart.

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

          Why not try making your point in declarative sentences? You are still not clear.

        • Fr Gregory says

          For what it’s worth, I have refused to marry couples I thought were unlikely to remain married. I have done so twice and once told another priest my concern for a couple’s fitness for marriage. He listened, did the wedding, they divorced within the year. So did the two couples who married civilly after I said no.

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

          I’ve done the same thing. Once I cancelled a wedding after it was scheduled to begin. I know of other priests who refused to marry couples as well.

          • James Bradshaw says

            Pre-marital counseling has generally proven effective within the church, not only in weeding out those who were not ready but preparing dedicated couples for the potential conflicts and issues. How should this play out in granting civil marriage licenses, if it all? (I’m speaking hypothetically since I doubt civil marriage will face increased restrictions anytime soon.)

            • Fr Gregory says

              Just as a hypothetical, the bishop could require that a couple sign a pre-nuptial agreement as a condition for being married in the Church. In the agreement both parties promise not to divorce. Should there be a divorce it must be for reasons allowed by the canons (apostasy, monastic profession, adultery or abandonment) and with the understanding, also in writing, that only the injured party may petition the bishop for a second, marriage (and then using the penitential service not the crowing service).

  3. Francis Frost says

    Fr. Patrick’s decision to refuse civil marriage licenses, is an interesting act of political theater, unlikely to affect the public dialog. It may, however, have unforeseen effects.

    Hopefully, Fr. Patrick plans to issue some other from of documentation for the marriages he does perform,. Otherwise, he might inadvertently participate in a bigamy. Perhaps as a convert, Fr Patrick is unaware that in the 20th century bigamy by immigrant men who left a family behind in the ‘Old Country’ was not an insignificant occurrence.

    What is more troubling is the absolute obsession with sins, such as gay “marriage” which, by definition, occur outside the church; while tragic sins that occur within the church are ignored or swept under the rug.

    While our resident moralists decry the violence against the unborn, our leaders have been silently complicit in acts of genocide, acts committed by “Orthodox” militias or the armed forces of “Orthodox” countries. This week marked the 20 the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres. While our Orthodox bishops universally decried the bombing of Serbia, did anyone speak out on behalf the the 8,000 (and still counting) unarmed Muslim men and boys who were rounded up and executed in cold blood?

    Fro over 25 years the Orthodox Christians of Georgia have endured massacres and ethnic cleansing at he hands of the Russian military and its mercenary Muslim militias. During the 2008 invasion of Georgia, the Russian bishops Panteleimon of Kabardia-Adyghe and Feofan of Saratov crossed over into the territory of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate in order to publicly “bless” the armaments used to kill innocent civilians and used to desecrate the Ghvrtaeba Cathdral and the Shrine of the Protomartyr Razhden. These infernal blessing were televised in both Russia and later in Georgia.

    Where is the cry of the Orthodox conscience when innocent blood is shed; when innocent Orthodox Christians are tortured and slaughtered without mercy?

    No where. In the words of the Akathist hymn, our moralists and bishop resolutely remain “as dumb as fish”.

    It is easy to criticize outsiders; but no one has the courage to confront the evil within.

    The current Russian invasion of Ukraine, has cost over 6,000 civilian lives. Another 5,000 Russian soldiers have died although the Russian government denies their very existence We know of this figure, because the organization of “Mothers of Russian Soldiers” has used its Facebook network to compile the statistics. There are no over 1 million refugees from thje invasion and occupation of the Donbas.

    Below are eyewitness testimnies of the atrocities committed against innocent civilians during the 3 Russian invasions of Orthodox Georgia.

    Your obsession with sins outside the church, while you ignore the sins committed in the church is a travesty and a sign of moral degeneracy.

    For more on on the sufferings of innocents read on:

    From the Martyrdom of St Andrea Kurashvili and St Giorgi Adua, the restorers and guardians of the Shrine of the Repose of St John Chrysostom in Komana:

    At 3 o’clock at night, the battle had spread to the very temple. “Any moment we can expect death. Let us prepare for confession and Holy Communion.” father Andrew told them, and for the last time he brought out the Holy cup from the Alter and gave them Communion. “Father Andrew was very calm when he announced to us to prepare for Communion. After the Communion he asked us not to talk amongst ourselves and to try to turn our thoughts deep within so that in this hell we can hear the quiet, but ever powerful and majestic voice of the eternity. These moments were unforgettable… The light soul of father Andrew revealed itself to us with unknown and mysterious force, he felt towards us the most gentle and all reaching love of Christ, seeing God’s light according to the words: And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1,5) A feeling overcame us that father Andrew is breaking into the other dimension of life where harmony and beauty rules and that no hellish forces, all joined together, will be able to do anything to him, because the source of this indescribable beauty and grace is God Himself, eternal and all reaching”- witnesses the novice Maria.

    At 5 o’clock in the morning outside they started yelling for them to open the door. With the blessing of father Andrew, Yuri opened the door. They grabbed him and with beating they dragged him outside. They were hitting him with the butts of their rifles and they dragged him away such that none saw him again. Latter it became known that he was dignified with a martyr’s death.

    Later they also dragged out father Andrew and as the lamb is mute before its shearers, in such a way he too did not open his mouth. Father Andrew sought to accept that cup and he drank it. He kneeled on his knees and he fervently prayed. The drunken militants asked Father Andrew asked: “whose land is this, Abkhaz or Georgian?” Father Andrew calmly replied: “The land belongs to God”. His enemy shot him in the back of his head, but he even in death, he did not surrender himself and submit to them. Instead of, according to logic, falling down on his face, he fell on his back. For twenty minutes from the wound poured out streams of blood.

    In the mean time the group that was in the temple did not know what was happening outside. After they took out father Andrew the wild and drugged up Abhaskan soldiers came into the temple, started to shout, swear and to desecrate it, and they even tipped over the grave of St. John Chrysostom, and after 3 hours some young man ran in and yelled out: “They killed your elder!”. They with all their strength went to the place of the crime and found the martyred body of their young by age, but elder by wisdom, spiritual father and Hieromonk Andrew. On his face, instead of a grimace there was a sweet smile.

    At the same time sub-deacon Giorgi Adua, was dragged away and nailed to a tree, in mockery of Christ’s crucifixion. The drunken soldiers used him for target practice, shooting at his arms and legs until he died from blood loss.

    “The Abkhazian separatists searched for everything they considered worthy, terrorized and killed Georgian peaceful inhabitants.”

    “…When they [Abkhaz] entered Gagra, I saw Shamyl Basaev’s battalion. I have never seen such a horror. They were raping and killing everyone who was captured and dragged from their homes. The Abkhaz commander Arshba raped a 14 year old girl and later gave an order to execute her. For the whole day I only could hear the screams and cries of the people who were brutally tortured. On the next day, I witnessed the mass execution of people on the stadium. They installed machine guns and mortars on the top and placed people right on the field. It took a couple of hours to kill everybody…”

    The Georgian government repeatedly appealed to the UN, OSCE, and other international organizations to intervene, while at the same time refusing offers of Russian military assistance. Several UN Security Council resolutions and decisions failed to lead to a de-escalation of the conflict.

    “…When the Abkhaz entered my house, they took me and my seven year old son outside. After forcing us to kneel, they took my son and shot him right in front of me. After they grabbed me by hair and took me to the nearby well. An Abkhaz soldier forced me to look down that well; there I saw three younger men and couple of elderly women who were standing soaked in water. They were screaming and crying while the Abkhaz were dumping dead corpses on them. Afterwards, they threw a grenade there and placed more people inside. I was forced again to kneel in front of the dead corpses. One of the soldiers took his knife and took the eye out from one of the dead near me. Then he started to rub my lips and face with that decapitated eye. I could not take it any longer and fainted. They left me there in a pile of corpses…”

    ” After the city was seized, the streets were covered with bodies. Separatists destroyed the Baramidze, Chkhetia, Baramia, Gvazava, Dzidziguri, Absandze, Shonia, and Kutsia families, as well as many others…”

    The war ended in late September 1993 with Abkhazeti’s virtual secession from Georgia through a radical ethnic cleansing of its multi-ethnic population and the destruction of its cities, including Sokhumi. Just at the beginning of the war adherents of Vladislav Ardzinba started killing, tormenting, raping, and robbing the inhabitants of Georgian nationality. At first Georgians of the following towns and villages experienced the sadism of the separatists: Gagra and Gudauta, Akhaladze, Bzipi, Ipnari, Otkhara, Akhali Sopeli, Eshera, Kochara, Ketevani, Labra, Kvitouli, Kindgi, etc. Ugrekhelidze, an inhabitant of the village Eshera, was forced to dig a hole of his own height, then he was pulled out his teeth and nails, and buried alive. They left his hand above the ground (the symbol of the Abkhazian banner.) Another Georgian was captured, cut his veins. Then the Abkhazian separatists poured his blood into glasses and drank it. After this they let him go to Sokhumi to tell everybody how Abkhazians drank Georgian blood.

    The Abkhazian butchers captured sisters – Eka Jvania (17 years old) and Marina Jvania (14 years old), Leila Samushia and others in village Pshadi. They undressed them in front of their parents and neighbors, and raped them. After this the Abkhazian butchers executed all of them by shooting.

    It’s just a drop in the ocean of separatists violence. 50,000 innocent people were killed in Abkhazian War in 1992-1993.

    “…They captured a young girl. She was hiding in the bushes near the house where they killed her parents. She was raped several times. One of the soldiers killed her and mutilated her. She was cut in half. Near her body they left a message: as this corpse will never be as one piece, Abkhazia and Georgia will never be united either…”

  4. Francis Frost says

    What is even more insidious is that your “moral campaigns” against Western tolerance are often cited as an excuse by the Putin regime for its violence against innocent Orthodox Christians. The very thought that invasions and murders are justified to uphold Orthodox “morality” is deviant, depraved and deranged. Such as thought has more in common with the Spanish Inquisition than the Gospel.

    When you are willing to defend ALL life, then, and only then, will your moral campaign resonate with God and with men.

    • Sigh….give me a break. Please, for the love of all things….stop reading what the (US Govt run) media tells you about Putin. They have an agenda to make him the boogeyman. The US led coup in Kiev is what started all of that trouble. “Invasions and murders”……LOL. The utterly naive crack me up.

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