Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt—Ministering to the People

On June 25th, the day the historic passage of the marriage bill in New York, Reverend Rosemary Bray McNatt stood with anticipation in front of the television in the Hilton Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina surrounded by dozens of other Unitarian Universalists leaders at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. When the vote was cast, making New York the seventh jurisdiction in the United States to legally allow marriage between same-sex couples, Rev. McNatt joined her colleagues in tears of joy, cheers of celebration, and hugs with fellow people of faith who so longed dreamed of the passage of this bill.

Reverend McNatt lives in Manhattan with her husband of 27 years and her two teenage sons. For the past ten years, Rev. McNatt has served as the Senior Minster at the Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. For years, Rev. McNatt has actively worked to win the freedom to marry in New York and across the nation. 

For Rev. McNatt, it all began on her twentieth wedding anniversary. On March 3, 2004, Rev. McNatt testified in Albany at a hearing held by State Senator Thom Duane about a similar marriage bill that was being considered during that time. According to Rev. McNatt, she testified that day about how, “it was really important to me that other people—no matter who they love—would have the opportunity to fall in love and get married and build a family the way I had the opportunity to do so.”

Since then, Rev. McNatt has become more involved in the fight to win the freedom to marry in New York. She became involved with the Empire State Pride Agenda’s “Pride in the Pulpit” program, confronting religious-based bigotry in connection with other faith leaders and congregation across the state. From the pulpit, Rev. McNatt has preached about why marriage matters and led her congregation in action for the freedom to marry. She is especially proud of the time when all of the member of her congregation who were willing wrote letters to their state assembly-people and state senators in support of the freedom to marry and then she and three other members hand-delivered those letters to the state legislature.

But why does the freedom to marry, in particular the passage of the marriage bill in New York, matter to her?

For Rev. McNatt, the freedom to marry is a religious issue. “Well for me, it is a very clear expression of our belief as liberal religious people in the primacy of love,” Rev. McNatt states. “We have been standing on the side of love for a very long time. And it is important in my witness as a liberal religious minister to marry people simply as a justice issue.”

But when it comes to the New York marriage law in particular, Rev. McNatt views this as a victory for religious freedom—but not in the way you would expect. “A lot of my personal outrage about not being able to marry same-sex couples was that my religious practice was being interfered with by people who did not believe that same-sex marriage was appropriate or moral,” she states. “But this law now allows me to act on behalf of my religious beliefs. I get to do what is most important to me, which is to minister to my people and affirm love and justice in my community and in the wider world.”

As we come closer and closer to the enactment of the marriage bill in New York, Rev. McNatt has already found her way of celebrating. In honor of the passage of this marriage in New York, Rev. McNatt and her fellow Associate Ministers are preparing for their Wedding Week at Fourth Universalist. Rev. McNatt will be bringing in the enactment of the freedom to marry in New York by offering a special week of non-stop weddings, starting at 1 pm on Sunday, July 24.

To learn about Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt or the Week of Weddings at Fourth Universalist, click here.