Reverend Kathleen McTigue, who has refused to sign marriage licenses until gay marriages are recognized by the state of Connecticut, publicly celebrated the relationships of about 20 gay and lesbian couples Friday in Hamden.

The ceremony took place at the Unitarian Society of New Haven, where McTigue is senior minister. She was joined by 11 other Christian clergy and one rabbi who perform gay marriage ceremonies and will not sign marriage certificates for heterosexual unions.

“We’re here tonight as a testimony against fear. We don’t want to be afraid of love,” McTigue said. “We assert our expectation and intention that [gay marriage] rights be recognized in our lifetime.”

In the ceremony, gay couples, mostly lesbians, were invited to stand up and tell those in attendance how long they had been in a relationship. Several of the gay couples had been together for more than two decades.

Yale English professor Amy Bloom and her partner Joy Johannessen announced that they had been together 10 years when the microphone passed to them.

“I liked that everyone’s relationship of commitment and love was recognized in a public way,” Johannessen said.

Reverend Jay Deacon, a Massachusetts Unitarian minister, said he had wanted to stop signing marriage licenses for years and was inspired by McTigue.

“As a gay man, I was afraid if I did it I’d be left out to dry by colleagues,” Deacon said. “The irony was I could sign a document that gave some 1,400 rights to a couple, but there’s no one on earth who could sign such a right to me.”

The ceremony was held during Marriage Protection Week, a week when President George W. Bush asked Americans to recognize the importance of heterosexual marriage.

“He offered up gay men and women as scapegoats,” McTigue said. “It is shameful.”

McTigue and those who have followed her still perform marriage ceremonies, but the legal documents are signed by an employee of the state.

Cyd Slotoroff, who played guitar in the service, said she and her partner were married by McTigue five years ago, though the ceremony lacked legal recognition. She described Friday’s ceremony as touching.

“I was almost crying from it,” Stotoroff said. “Finding that kind of support and solidarity is very moving. It gets under your skin and into your heart.”

McTigue said her congregation welcomed her decision to stop signing marriage licenses for heterosexual couples. She has received no public opposition to her choice, she said, but Friday was the first public declaration of her decision.

The Unitarian Church has historically been more tolerant of gay couples than other Christian denominations, McTigue said. Most of the clergy who have joined McTigue are Unitarians.

The collection from the service went towards the USNH Task Force for Equal Rights and payment for added security for the event. Two Hamden police officers were on duty for the service, but they said there were no problems.

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