A shift in public opinion, and two prominent Supreme Court cases on the issue of marriage equality, are forcing Christian denominations to examine their positions.
As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of California’s Prop 8 and DOMA this week, Christians of many denominations gathered outside the court to advocate and explain their views on marriage equality. Their comments made clear that on homosexuality and marriage, Christians don’t speak with one voice.
Officially, the Catholic Church opposes marriage equality and the social acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex relationships. Many Catholics came to Washington to stand up for this religious view of marriage–as between one man and one woman–a number of them ministers of the church.
“I want to begin with words to those who are watching us that disagree with us,” Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco told a crowd Tuesday in front of the court. “I want to speak on behalf of all of us to you. What I want to say is we love you. We are your neighbors and we want to be your friends, and we want you to be happy. Please understand that we don’t hate you, that we are not motivated by animus or bigotry. It is not our intention to offend anyone, and if we have, I apologize. I would ask that you please try to listen to us fairly and calmly, and try to understand us and our position.”
Though 58% of white Catholics and 59% of Hispanic Catholics favor allowing gay couples to marry, the Vatican has not given any ground on the issue. The only glimmer of hope for LGBT individuals seeking greater acceptance is that the newly installed Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) reportedly advocated for civil unions in 2010, when Argentina was on the verge of legalizing same-sex marriage (which it eventually did later that year). Bergoglio has never supported marriage equality; in that, he stands firmly with his church.
But other Christian denominations have begun to soften their stance. The U.S. Episcopal Church, for example, has been a progressive leader in opening sanctioned pathways for gay rights. In 2009, the Episcopal General Convention passed resolutions to allow for same-sex marriages in states where it is legal.
Six years prior, in 2003, the church ordained its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of the New Hampshire Diocese.
“Thoughtful, progressive religious people of all faiths have come to understand that the synagogue, the mosque, and the church has gotten it wrong about us,” Bishop Robinson said Tuesday. “We can persevere in this struggle no matter what the Supreme Court decides in a couple of months, because we know how this is going to end, don’t we? This is going to end with our full acceptance and inclusion into the life and citizenship of this nation.”
Robinson’s ordainment is cited as a catalyst for the “Anglican realignment,” a schism between Anglicans who support same-sex unions and those who do not. Worldwide, the Episcopal Church comprises about 2.1 million people; the Anglican Communion, of which it is a part, boasts about 80 million. In 2008, a new Anglican denomination, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), was created by Episcopalians who were uncomfortable with the church’s movement on gay rights. Four dioceses and approximately 700 congregations splintered from U.S. Episcopalianism and joined the ACNA.
According to its website, the ACNA is now some 100,000 strong, with 1,000 congregations in the United States and Canada.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby–the highest prelate of the Anglican Communion–said recently that he needs ”to listen very attentively to the LGBT communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully,” when it comes to the issue of civil partnerships. Welby is committed, however, to the Church of England’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
Members of several Christian denominations gathered outside the Supreme Court Tuesday and Wednesday, to speak on both sides of marriage equality debate:
“Marriage has been well defined throughout time,” said Bishop David Hall of the Church of God in Christ. “Marriage is strengthened by physical sexual attributes as those based upon which sexual complementary functions exist, that is to say, men and women go together!”
“What God has defined, no court can redefine!” said evangelical pastor of the Wesleyan Skyline Church Jim Garlow.
“I know and you know that some people oppose marriage equality because of their religion, and their assumption that marriage equality cannot be spiritually valid. I want to tell you that’s not true,” said Baptist pastor and President of the Interfaith Alliance Welton Gaddy. “As a minister for over fifty years who has performed wedding ceremonies shaped by holy scriptures, let me assure you that the genders of the persons at the altar does not destroy the significance of their marital commitments to each other.”
All denominations are facing pressure from the shift in public opinion on marriage equality. Pollingreport.com has done a roundup of all the polling on same-sex marriage this year, and averages the national support at 51%, a majority for the first time in U.S. history. Four states won marriage equality battles in the November election. And nine states now legally recognize same-sex marriage.
“Support for marriage equality is not about good religion,” Gaddy told marriage equality advocates outside the Supreme Court Tuesday. “It is about being a good American.”