ASK FATHER: Marriage licenses with “Spouse 1” and “Spouse 2”

From a Protestant clergyman reader…


Thank you for your blog. Your courage and clarity motivate me. I am a Protestant clergy and am struggling with whether or not I should even morally be signing marriage licenses anymore. I had my first marriage since the Supreme Court decision [Obergefell v Hodges] and the new form has “spouse 1” and “spouse 2” on it. I felt like I was condoning and participating in an evil act. Do you have any advice for me about how you manage this current muck?

If the marriage is between a man and a woman, then there isn’t any moral problem with signing the licences.  “Spouse” is neutral and is, in fact, accurate… for men and women.

If, however, you are signing the licenses for same-sex … blech… unions…

… STOP DOING THAT and you won’t have to sign them.

There are 9 different ways to participate culpably in the sin of another, namely:

  1. By counsel (to give advice, one’s opinion or instructions.)
  2. By command (to demand, to order, such as in the military.)
  3. By consent (to give permission, to approve, to agree to.)
  4. By provocation (to dare.)
  5. By praise or flattery (to cheer, to applaud, to commend.)
  6. By concealment (to hide the action, to cover-up.)
  7. By partaking (to take part, to participate.)
  8. By silence (by playing dumb, by remaining quiet.)
  9. By defense of the ill done (to justify, to argue in favour.)

It is not morally permissible to participate in any homosexual ceremony on any level.

Sodomy is a “sin that cries to heaven”.  Same-sex unions are mockeries of the natural order and, hence, of God.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, One Man & One Woman, Sin That Cries To Heaven and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. iPadre says:

    Great advice for Protestant clergy, but also for some brother priests who seem a bit confused.

  2. sibnao says:

    God bless the minister trying to resist the lies.

    If it were me (and I thank God frequently I’m a wife and mother, rather than a pastor), I might write in the names on the blanks provided, but in parentheses after the man’s name write “(husband)” and after the woman’s “(wife)”. Just to not give in.

    I would be curious to know whether Fr. Z thinks that pastors should be cooperating in civil marriage at all. I’m of two minds myself.

  3. fishonthehill says:

    The NYC marriage license has written : Spouse A/groom/bride on one line and Spouse B/groom/bride on the other. I always circle one (even though it does not instruct to do so). As a suggestion… just write Bride and Groom over spouse 1 and 2 on the License, I doubt this will not cause any issues with the clerk.

  4. frjim4321 says:

    Okay, granting all that for the sake of argument.
    My experience has been that same-sex couples who marry don’t receive much preparation or support from either their church or their community; and sometimes (sadly) not from their families.
    Our Foccus survey does not have an option for same-sex couples. I hear that Prepare-Enrich does not have such an option either; although they have a “cohabitation” special focus area.
    If we are routinely implementing a “cohabitation” scale for the pre-marriage inventory (even though cohabitation is not our ideal couple model), why would we not also invoke a “same-sex couple” model (even though that is not our ideal, either). At least we would be providing counseling and support.
    By prohibiting same-sex couples from marriage in the church we are denying them the preparation and counseling that they need.
    I think we would serve people better and more if we spent less time on semantics and more time on evaluating and serving needs.

  5. JamesM says:


    Can I point out that same-sex couples cannot marry. They can marry other people of the opposite sex, but they can’t marry each other. Governments can’t legislate against reality. If a law was enacted tomorrow that stated that I was from Mars, it wouldn’t make it true.

    “Same sex couples” are living in a sinful situation. I think Fr. Z’s post above states clearly how we can be culpable for the sins of others. With that in mind, I think anyone who offers counselling for same-sex couples needs to be very careful, lest they become culpable themselves.

  6. hwriggles4 says:

    Fr. Z:

    Thanks for posting this. I live in the South and there are several Protestant pastors (mostly Baptist) who will not do same sex weddings.

    I was also very pleased at the last local pro life March I attended last January of how many LCMS were present (one congregation is close to where I live, and their pastor led in clerics), and a large Anglicans for Life group (mostly from Fort Worth) was visible.

    There are times I have been at Sunday Mass and when the readings apply to marriage, the priest in his homily (and sometimes the permanent deacon) will mention that marriage is between one man and one woman. The best line I ever heard was a few years ago at a Sunday Mass where a priest said, “Marriage is between one man and one woman and no court can change that.” By the way, that particular priest is both a Pastoral Provision priest and a widower.

  7. Moro says:

    That Protestant Pastor is in my prayers……Thank you to this Pastor whoever you are for fighting the good fight on marriage and I am sure many other issues. I am thankfully that we have so many conscientious Protestants in the West resisting the insanity of the age because Catholics sure have our share of knuckleheads. Let us pray for Christian Unity.

  8. fishonthehill says:

    Just out of curiosity, to whom pray tell are you referring to when you say “we”?

  9. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    Frjim4321 wrote: “By prohibiting same-sex couples from marriage in the church we are denying them the preparation and counseling that they need.
    “I think we would serve people better and more if we spent less time on semantics and more time on evaluating and serving needs.”

    Dear Frjim4321, The Church in her mission of salvation and mercy, could, indeed, do a much better job preparing and counseling the population you alluded to, for these brothers and sisters are in desperate need of preaching, prayers, and example to help them turn away from, in the words of the Master, the broad road “that leads to destruction,” but, instead, to find and to travel the narrow road “that leads to life.” (Matthew 7:13-14).

    How merciful is our good God in demanding that our pastors and bishops impress upon His people the necessity to live chastely and avoid all sins against this virtue – sins which will lead us to destruction if we should be so unfortunate as to die in final impenitence? Such a tragedy must be avoided at all costs. Yet, whether we are speaking of homosexual sodomy, or any other kind of sexual license, or any of the other acts which our most compassionate God has patiently communicated to us would destroy us, I believe too many bishops and pastors neglect to meet these demands of mercy and compassion while there is yet time – neglecting to stir up in the hearts of the people the resolve to avoid destruction and to seek life, by avoiding doing what is evil and to do what is good, . . . lest we lose everything. “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9b,10).

    And it is an even greater misfortune that has come upon the people of God in recent years, that many have been misled into believing that the Eternal Law of God is no longer in force. But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching” is the warning of the Apostle Paul (Hebrews 13:8-9a). A merciful God, these strange teachers say, is a God who denies both His holy and divine nature, as well as our free will, in order that He Himself might call “evil good and good evil.” Thus, these teachers of strange things speak of a mercy that renders absurd the necessity of the Passion, death, and resurrection of Christ Himself – for if a “merciful” God is a God whose nature is capable of simply overlooking certain kinds of sin, and of uniting Himself to impenitent sinners whose wills have turned away from Him, then the sacrifice of Jesus was not necessary, and thus pointless.

    Such teachers cannot even be called “Christians;” their faith is no more than that of the unbelievers who proclaim that Jesus Christ was a prophet and a teacher, but nothing more. But these strange teachers are deceiving themselves or trying to deceive the Christian Church by implying that a “merciful” God might have opened Heaven to sinners apart from anything like Christ’s salvific action on our behalf.

  10. frjim4321 says:

    James M and Fish: Again, granting for the sake of argument that same-sex couples are not validly married in the church, [HUH?!? “granting for the sake of argument”?!?] de facto we do have family members, friends and parishioners who are in such marriages civilly and the fact is there is little support for them as we (meaning pastoral counselors associated with the church) are not ably to publicly assist them.

    For instance: One of the roles of a functioning pastoral counselor is to indeed lead some couples to the insight that their relationship is NOT ordered to marriage; and since we don’t have the freedom to work with many such couple we don’t have the opportunity to dissuade them.

    And I suspect that the proportion of same-sex couples who should be dissuaded from marriage [It’s NOT marriage!] is much, much higher than that of opposite-sex couples. The one couple in particular that I am working with now (in fact it is only one party, it is not conjoint pastoral counseling), I would have urged them to wait much longer, in which case they probably would still both be single.

    So there are cases in which a pastoral relationship between a counselor and a same-sex couple (or party) [or… group?] could be quite compatible with our ministerial goals, particularly if it leads to the deferral or even cancellation of wedding plans whenever that is the desirable outcome.

  11. fishonthehill says:

    Thank you, I thought it was just my normal state of confusion that i had not understood your comments. I appreciate your clarification.

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  13. JamesM says:


    From reading your reply, one could easily come to the conclusion that you reject the Church’s dogmatic teaching on marriage as well as the dogmatic teaching on homosexuality.

    To set my mind at ease could you please confirm that this is not the case and that you do in fact accept that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman. Also, can you confirm that you accept that homosexual acts are always sinful.

  14. frjim4321 says:

    “From reading your reply, one could easily come to the conclusion that you reject the Church’s dogmatic teaching on marriage as well as the dogmatic teaching on homosexuality.” – James

    James, Hi. I think I’m more into the accompaniment modality; I don’t think we can call people to a higher expression of faith (be they gay or straight) by rejecting them from the outset. No matter how much I love my nephew, I’m not going to turn him into a straight man, nor can I accept that he is somehow defective because of his natural sexual orientation. Nor am I well-disposed to accepting the idea that because he is, by no choice of his own, a gay man, he is necessarily consigned to a life without human intimacy.

    It took the church quite a while to come around the accepting the idea of heliocentrism; nor am I looking to the church for a complete understanding of human sexuality.

    I hope this clarifies my position for you.

  15. JamesM says:


    In giving your reply but avoiding answering the clear question I asked of you, it simply makes it seem that you do in fact reject the dogmatic teaching of the Church.

    I ask the question again :

    “To set my mind at ease could you please confirm …. that you do in fact accept that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman. Also, can you confirm that you accept that homosexual acts are always sinful.”

    This is dogmatic teaching of the Church. I don’t think I need to spell out why I am so uncomfortable with a man who claims to be a priest, refusing to confirm that he accepts this teaching.

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