On June 25, stories about the historic passage of marriage equality in New York State were all over the media. As the GLAAD staff read through the stories, we noticed a disturbing trend. All of the faith voices were speaking against marriage equality. Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, was the most prominent vocal critic, being quoted in most stories about marriage equality, followed closely by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who has ordered his parishes to distance themselves from marriage equality lawmakers. Several individual pastors with independent congregations, as well as national anti-gay industry leaders, were given quotes in the media. Nowhere could we find faithful voices that supported marriage equality in the pages of our newspapers or on the airwaves. It was troubling, since we had been working with a large coalition of religious leaders across the state, who we knew were saying, “Hallelujah!” or “Thanks be to God!” at this historic moment.
The other major part of the June 25 story was the religious exemptions included in the marriage law. These exemptions did not create a new law, but specifically reinforced the existing reality that places of worship and religious institutions will not be forced to perform weddings for couples, and will be able to set their own marriage policies within the church or denomination. However, the discussion about the exemptions gave the impression that no religious institution would perform a marriage for a gay or lesbian couple, a fact that is simply untrue.
As time went on, more stories were published that highlighted religious opposition to marriage equality. A city clerk won a lot of media attention when she resigned her position, rather than signing a marriage certificate for a gay or lesbian couple. She cited her religious beliefs as the reason. Another story focused on Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who had his donation to a Roman Catholic school returned, at the direction of the Diocese. In both of these stories, no religious voices spoke for the pro-LGBT side.
In the weeks leading up to the advent of marriage equality in New York, GLAAD has been working to remind journalists and editors that many faith leaders support marriage equality. We posted a blog article that summarized pro-marriage statements. We pitched names of pro-LGBT faith leaders. As media outlets are asking us for couples, we remind them to include the couple’s faith life in the profiles. GLAAD has also created a web page listing places of worship that are willing and excited to perform weddings for gay and lesbian couples.
And finally, over the weekend, something seems to have changed. The New York Times published an op-ed by Samuel Freedman entitled, “How Clergy Helped a Same-Sex Marriage Law Pass,” which highlighted the journey of Rev. Anna Taylor Sweringen, a straight-identified, African-American, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ pastor, and how she became such a strong advocate for marriage equality.
At the same time, Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press wrote the article “The Great Faith Divide? Churches Debate Same-Sex Marriage.” The article describes mainline Protestant denominations’ struggle to reconcile internal denominational policy with the New York marriage law. It focused on the fact that in denominations, including The Episcopalian Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), who support the congregation’s authority to bless gay and lesbian relationships, but have not created a denominational policy around participating in civil marriage.
The tide may have changed on the religious tone of marriage equality in New York, but GLAAD continues to encourage the media to lift up couples of faith in their profiles of couples headed to the altar. We also ask reporters to speak with pro-LGBT clergy and faith leaders to hear the theological support for marriage equality.
If you have a place of worship or a religious leader who is ready and willing to officiate at the weddings of gay and lesbian couples, please add them to the GLAAD website.