Flash! Church and state are supposed to be separate!

Another bulletin for the “More grist for the mill” file.  The National Organization for MisinformationMarriage has amplified their claim that marriage equality somehow quashes, instead of clears the path for, true religious freedom.  Gotta fix that. Pro marriage equality churches CANNOT LEGALLY WED WHO THEY WANT TO when same-sex marriage is outlawed.  That, folks, is a limit on the free exercise of  religious freedom.  How many churches might those be? Read on! [later note, heaping on yet more grist for the mill: a Religion Dispatches article of May 5 (via AlterNet) notes rising secularist numbers: “40  Million Nonbelievers in America? The Secret is Almost Out”]

This gay marriage = religious freedom argument was floating around in my head for a while (probably since I got trained for election day No on 8 work at a United Church of Christ church, or was fed election-day donuts there).  But it did not become vivid until I saw Rob Tish’s crisp, concise video presentation of the argument that  “Gay Marriage = Religious Freedom.”  If you haven’t seen it yet, do: you won’t be disappointed.  (Those of you who are reading this post in a reader aren’t party to the feverish happenings in this blog’s sidebar; some do read it in situ, but might not have seen: I it posted it in my “Selected Videos” slot in the sidebar a week or two back.)  Here you go:


The short version of the above: (1) Each argument that religious freedoms would be limited by marriage equality? False, proved so by a point-by-point examination of them (for further corroboration, consider five years’ experience in Massachusetts, testified to by clergy).  Faiths that do not recognize or support same-sex marriage are free to continue to not marry members of the same sex.  And (2) Pro-marriage equality churches cannot marry who their faith tells them they should when same-sex marriage is outlawed.  That is the limit on religious freedom.

Courage Campaign  just released a citizen-made video reiterating the same point: the separation of church and state protects religious freedom; marriage equality and religious freedom are not in conflict.

And in “Same Sex Marriage is Inevitable,” a commentary earlier this week at Forbes.com, pollster Bernard Whitman reminds readers,

Religions have plenty of prohibitions against actions that are perfectly legal in our society, including working on the Sabbath, eating shellfish, drinking alcohol or coffee or celebrating Halloween. Would anyone think to suggest that these activities be prevented by law simply because some people’s religions are opposed? Of course not.

He goes on to reiterate the breathtakingly overlooked fact that marriages conducted in a church, synagogue, or mosque are only legally recognized by the state because the officiant has  been recognized by the state, and this person files paperwork with the state on behalf of the couple, if the couple doesn’t do this directly. Whitman:

And while religions certainly have rules that married couples are supposed to follow, it is the state that decides who may get married and who may not, when marriages begin and end, and what rights, benefits and privileges are awarded to married people.

I note these things not so much because I think any of you highly astute LD readers are laboring under essential misconceptions about such matters, but to provide you a bit more material from which to draw as you have your various water-cooler/ dinner table conversations with friends, colleagues, and family members.  Since that’s how this whole shebang is going to move.

And generally speaking, anyone watching the polling these days  knows that movement on this topic is actually coming along at a rapid clip.  Both the Washington Post/ABC and the New York Times/CBS have recently released polls showing sharp upticks of support for gay marriage:  The Post/ABC poll just asked pro/con for same sex marraige, and came up: 49% for, 46% against.  Got that? More for than against. (ABC coverage on it, with graph, here.) The NYT/CBS poll factored in support for civil unions as well, and still came up with more for gay marriage than any other option: Times/CBS: 42% for same-sex marriage, 25% for civil unions, 28% for no legal recognition.

Seeing Rob Tish’s video a few weeks back got my own curiosity about pro-marriage equality churches to its logical next step, and I rooted around for more numbers.  I haven’t yet turned up a head count of US congregations, but The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported on various denominations’ positions on same sex marriage in May of 2008. I’ve poured a synopsis of it in a home-spun table, below; for more info do look at the report itself, since it provides links to each of the denominations’ own publications on the topic.  [Full disclosure: I am a heathen (okay, okay; I’m a Buddhist) and do not pretend to a more nuanced command of the topic than I found on this Pew overview. I know a couple of you LD readers are lesbian clergy  (yay!) and Jewish scholars (yay!), and may be inspired to focus this picture even further for interested readers. Plus there’s this “Learn More” section of Freedom to Marry’s “Why Marriage Matters to Religious People and Communities” page.] 

By my count, out of all these denominations, only around half are explicitly anti-gay marriage. The rest are either for it, or not explicitly against it, or even, in several cases, in the throes of significant internal turmoil over an evolving redefinition of their position.  I could add up the numbers of congregants in these open and affirming (or at least not clearly closed and denouncing) denominations, but what would that matter? Isn’t protection of religious minorities one of the bedrock tenets of this nation?


denomination  current views on same-sex marriage: pro/?/con
American Baptist con: 1992 General Board declared “homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching,” but in 2006 churches in CA, HI, NV, & AZ broke with the nat’l church in reaction to the General Board’s failure to penalize churches that welcomed openly gay members
Buddhism ?:  no official position, depends on cultural attitudes; but an overwhelming majority of American Buddists (82%, second only to “Other Faiths” and only just ahead of Jews, at 79%) believe homosexuality “should be accepted by society”
Catholicism con:  US Conference of Catholic Bishops oppose gay marriage
Episcopal Church ?:  church not explicitly in favor, but in 2006 stated “support of gay and lesbian persons and [opposition to] any state or federal constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex marriages or unions,” Bishop Gene Robinson first openly gay bishop *
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  con:  its legislative body, the Churchwide Assembly, is currently studying the issue and is expected to present official position on the ordination of openly gay ministers and same-sex marriage sometime this year; currently defines marriage as between a man & a woman [see also this  add’l info from commenter theredbaron and this add’l info from commenter Sarah]
Hinduism ?:  no official position; depends on cultural attitudes; however just 48% felt homosexuality should be accepted by society, and 37% thought it should be discouraged
Islam con:  Islamic law explicitly denounces homosexuality; same-sex marriage prohibited, only disagreement is severity of punishment
Judaism largely pro: both Reform and Reconstructionist mov’ts support LGBT rights, including the right of same-sex couples to wed; Conservative mov’t does not sanctify gay marriage but does grant rabbis the autonomy to choose whether or not to perform ceremonies; Orthodox Judaism defines marriage as between man & woman & therefore does not allow for same-sex marriage
Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod con:  in 2006 reaffirmed position that same-sex marriage is “contrary to the will of the Creator”
Mormonism con:  theology mandates that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God” & as a result, LDS does not endorse same-sex marriage
National Ass’n of Evangelicals con:  in 2004 reaffirmed its 1985 resolution that homosexuality is not sanctioned by the Bible and thus does not support gay marriage or civil unions
National Council of Churches ?:  no official position due to diverse theological teachings among its member churches
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) con/?:  governing body, the General Assembly, has not explicitly addressed issue, but in 1997 issued a ruling prohibiting the ordination of homosexuals; regional synods and clergy have challenged this ruling, causing a major rift among Presbyterians *
Southern Baptist Convention con:  in 2003 issued a statement confirming its opposition to gay marriage
Unitarian Universalist Ass’n of Congregations  pro:  in 1996 passed a resolution in support of same sex marriage
United Church of Christ pro:  in 2005 the General Synod of the UCC voted to legally recognize and advocate in favor of same-sex marriage
United Methodist Church con:  in 2004 the General Conference of the UMC reaffirmed that marriage is between a man & a woman & does not sanction civil unions *

 [Data for the above table adapted from The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s Special Report: The Same-Sex Marriage Debate — Religious Groups’ Official Positions on Same-Sex Marriage, revised May 20, 2008.]

* B.A. Robinson notes, In “The Episcopal Church, USA and homosexuality” at Religious Tolerance.org, that “the Episcopal Church (USA), along with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church are probably experiencing the greatest amount of conflict over the questions of equal rights for their gay and lesbian members.” 

If you’re still reading this lengthy, patchwork post, you may be wondering: What specific good works are afoot right now to strengthen and support the work of these open and affirming congregations, since the California Supreme Court decision on Proposition 8 is going to hit us like a big huge smelly fish in the face (!) any week now? 

Reader, wonder no more! Equality California’s Coalitions Coordinator Andrea Shorter (score, EQCA!) has been hard at work fostering discussion among various faith leaders, and in “In Good Faith: Moving Towards Marriage Equality,” a post today at Equality California’s blog, Shorter conveys some of that dialog.  It’s rich, and very heartening.  Go read it.  And if you’re local to the San Francisco Bay Area, know that the Bay Area Coalition of Welcoming Congregations is engaged as you read these very words in planning a concerted response to the court’s decision (dates and locations here).

Alrighty then!  Enough words for one post, and, as I’ll clarify tomorrow, for one month. Thanks for reading. To you, and to myself, I say: Stay calm and carry on.

7 thoughts on “Flash! Church and state are supposed to be separate!”

  1. This is great information, thanks. I know what I believe and I know what is right but I don’t always know how to counter some of the misinformation being spread. Still trying to decide if I am brave enough to post this to FB where my ultra-right religious family and acquaintances will see it.

  2. Wise words, Polly, and very useful table. The United Methodists have just clarified their position re: UM clergy performing marriages for same-sex couples, fyi. Summary: They can’t.

    In contrast, I’ll point to an interview I serendipitously did with UM Bishop Melvin Talbert a couple of weeks ago for Bay Windows. Bishop Talbert has spoken out strongly in favor of LGBT rights within the church. He was recently honored by Cambridge Welcoming Ministries, an LGBT-supporting UM church in the Boston area. (I’m going to post it at Mombian next week; haven’t gotten around to it yet. And no, I’m not Methodist. I’ll report on any denomination, though.)

  3. YAY!! Thanks for this. It does my lesbian-clergy heart good when you “heathens” speak out on our behalf. (News flash, folks: homosexuality and Christianity are not incompatible!)

    I heard a presentation yesterday on the PCUSA’s arguments over ordaining “clergy who engage in same-sex practices”, a debate which is currently ongoing. A few interesting things came up: 1) the vote was very close this time, close enough that it is entirely probable that at their next General Assembly, the vote will go the other way. 2) the language used in their Book of Confessions requires “fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness”, but does not explicitly define marriage. No one seems sure as to where this leaves Presbyterian clergy in MA, CT, VT or IA. 3) these rules are based on the Heidelberg Catechism… or rather, a translation of it, done in the late 60s. Recently, the translators confessed that they purposely inserted language that was not in the original, so that the catechism would specifically condemn homosexuality. Interesting argument, when we’re suddenly not talking about the Will of God, but the Will of Translator. I haven’t gotten the citations for any of this yet, but I do hope to in the next couple of days.

    Finally, it could also be mentioned that the Catholic Church reserves the right not to marry those who have previously been divorced. Funny, I don’t hear anyone arguing that divorce should not be legal…

  4. Your list stated that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) “is currently studying the issue and is expected to present official position on the ordination of openly gay ministers and same-sex marriage sometime this year.” It actually completed its study (the final document is available on their website). To clarify, currently ordination of openly gay persons is allowed, but they are compelled to not have sexual relations outside of marriage (so read that as “stay celibate” since the church doesn’t currently recognize same-sex marriage). The ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly (which occurs every three years with voting members, lay and clergy, representing all areas of the country attending) will be meeting in mid-August of this year. One of the items they will vote on is whether to allow people in a same-sex committed relationship to become/remain clergy. Of course, if that becomes allowed then it would trickle down to acknowledging the merit of all same-sex committed relationships, regardless of the access to legal marriage where an individual lives. Needless to say, there will be strong reactions no matter which way things go.

    Probably more information than you ever wanted to know, but I’m a compulsive stickler for details!

    • Thank you, theredbaron. There is no such thing as too compulsive a stickler for detail, sez me, OCD editor extraordinnaire! I worried that the Pew report would be outdated in this case. I’ll put a note on the table alerting folks to your comment.

      Rev2bebt, I was hoping you’d get flushed out of the bushes for this one! It does my heart equally good to know that folk like you are serving as spiritual/ethical guides to communities of well-intentioned folk. Thank you for the finer detail on the PCUSA’s position.

      Thank you, Dana, for the color commentary on the United Methodist position and the link. Thanks very much for the link to your interview in Bay Windows: fascinating!

      Last and very much not least: St, a continued thanks for your readership. Whether or not you pass this post or stuff in it on to your family, I’m glad you have more places to go for info and support (these links in this post, plus the further info from the other readers). Whenever I try to really, truly, put my heart in the place of people who, in good faith and with no personal rancor, believe that homosexuality is not just outside, but actively contrary to what they believe most dear, I just think: wow. I can’t figure how hard it would be to work one’s way from that spot to a place that finds theological support for openness and compassion and understanding in this area. Clearly many denominations do; others dont; others still are soul-searching on a very broad scale. But I think the best consciousness-raising work here will have to come from community members in their sphere — if not family members or friends or fellow congregants, then fellow practicing Christians, ideally leadership.

  5. In further regard to the ELCA: my parents subscribe to “The Lutheran”, and they covered this very topic in a recent issue….

    The vote this summer will be in 4 parts, and one of them involves gay clergy in a committed relationship to fulfil the Lutheran requirement of fidelity. Find it here: http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=7976&key=63616574 )

    I also know that if (and when) I meet a girl I wish to marry, my ELCA pastor will be happy to marry us. Using the Lutheran marriage ceremony. In a church, if I/we wish. This, despite the fact that the doctrinal history of the Lutheran church, dating back to Martin Luther himself, declares that marriage is not an institution of the church, but rather of the state. Oh, if only the church would lead on this, instead of following.

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