She Resigned in Protest Over Massachusetts Marriages

Linda Gray Kelley resigned in protest as a justice of the peace in Massachusetts.

She and other justices of the peace thought they would have a “con-science clause” when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ordered the state to legalize homosexual “marriage.” But once the law was changed, they were told that they had no choice. They could either perform same-sex marriages or become criminally guilty of discrimination.

Kelley stood up for her beliefs, then walked out. Raised in Cleveland, Kelley has been married for 25 years and has long been active in her parish, St. Joseph's in Charlton, Mass. She spoke to Register correspondent Joseph A. D'Agostino.

Have you been active in the Church your whole adult life?

I went to the convent directly after high school back in the 60s. That's kind of the way it was done. I went into the Ursuline convent where I was for two years. It was during a very volatile time in religious life throughout the country. The Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the ecumenical council were causing things to be wild, and not only in seminaries but in convents.

I was in the novitiate, and 23 of us went in and 20 of us came out during that time. Finally, many convents nationwide, as well as seminaries, decided for three to five years they would stop accepting new applicants. When have you ever heard the Church saying we aren't taking anybody for a while?

When I came out of the convent, I was away from the Church for a while because when I left, I had a bad taste in my mouth. I didn't like the things that were said to me. I was young and passionate, and I didn't think I was understood.

So I stayed away from the Church for about 15 years. That's a long time. For a while now, I've been in charge of a group at my church called Re-Membering. And ReMembering is a national movement to work with alienated Catholics and get them back to their Catholic roots. It involves a lot of missionary work.

There was a time when I was mad at the Catholic Church myself. I thought, why did I come back?

And all these other churches were making overtures to me. And you know what? They looked real good. They had the fellowship that I wanted, they had the praise that I wanted.

There's just one thing missing.

They don't have the Eucharist. For the last 2,004 years, there have been problems. And I'm not going to change religions because of the human element. I'm in it for the divine element.

Given that the Church does say that people should be married in church, how do you defend being a justice of the peace?

Father Bob Grattaroti, my pastor, said, “You know how you do evangelization all the time? This is going to put you in front of a lot of couples.” When couples would come to me, I would say to them, “Tell me about yourself. Tell me what kind of wedding you would like to have.”

They would tell me and I would say, “Would you want any mention of God in your ceremony?” They would say Yes or they would say, “No, we're atheists” or Buddhists or whatever they were.

I would say, “Do you mind if I ask what religion you were raised?”

If they say, I was raised Baptist or I was raised Congregational or Unitarian, I would say, “I'm just curious, why aren't you going to the Unitarian church to get married?” And then usually you hear this big long ugly story. And I would just listen and then I would say, “I just want you to know that I am more than happy to go forward with this, and I would love to do your ceremony for you. However, if you have an interest in being reconciled with the Congregational church, my friend Jim Chafe is a minister over there …”

What I would always do is use the platform to say, “One last chance!”

When did you first start to think you might have to resign?

It was last fall. I would go to these Massachusetts Justices of the Peace Association meetings. There would be breakfasts on a Sunday morning. Everybody would be asking questions about it, and the president of the association would say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know you guys are worried about it, but you know what? It's going to be okay because we have the website and we're going to list these user-friendly justices of the peace. ‘Call these user-friendly justices of the peace if you want a same-sex marriage.’ We're going to set it up so there are hundreds to pick from.”

There are 1,200 justices of the peace in the state, 500 in the association.

Then we have another meeting in February, and now they said, “We're figuring out what we're going to do here. If you're a conscientious objector, if you have a problem with doing this, don't worry. There's going to be room for everybody.”

On April 26, Dan Winslow, chief legal counsel to Gov. Mitt Romney, came to speak to the association.

We had two speakers. The first guy spoke on discrimination. He said, “I just want you to know that I'm with the Office of Discrimination and if any of you for any reason decide not to do your job like marry a same-sex couple, that you will get sued for $1 million. If they go through my agency, it will be $25,000, but because this is a high-profile case, they will hire private attorneys and go to the state Supreme Court, and you will be found guilty of discrimination.”

He said, “And don't come to us for help. We are always on the side of the victim.”

Dan Winslow made his speech — a three-minute speech. He said, “So on May 17, when same-sex ‘marriages’ are made legal in Massachusetts, you took an oath. You said you would uphold the laws of Massachusetts. And so you have to. And so I want everybody in this room to just go and do it. There will be no exceptions.”

I resigned the next day, April 27. I did take an oath. It is the law. It's a bad law, but it is the law. I knew then that I was going to have to quit. Winslow ended with this line: “You just don't have a choice.”

I was appalled. And I thought to myself, “You know what, Linda, you always have a choice. You learned that in second grade. It's called free will. And if this isn't sitting right with you, with the Church, with the Bible, with any of that stuff, the choice is to cease being a justice of the peace.”

After the speech, there was a break and I rushed up and I said, “Where do I send my letter of resignation?” And all the cameras went from the guy over to me. My husband sees me talking to this guy. My husband grabs my arm and walks me politely out to the parking lot.

He says, “What are you about?” And I said, “I'm quitting.” And he said, “Oh, thank God. I thought you would never give up.” I said, “Honey, it's a no-brainer.”

I felt I had to quit. When St. Peter is going through the litany of my sins, if he says to me, “You know when that thing was going on? Where were you in all that? You've got a big mouth; why didn't you stand up and be counted as someone who said this is wrong?” And that was the haunting thing.

Joseph A. D'Agostino writes from Washington, D.C.