Religious Leaders Support Marriage Equality in Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington

As state legislatures in New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington are moving closer to approving marriage equality legislation, religious voices are speaking out in support of equality. People of faith are often portrayed by their most intolerant elements, particularly around issues of LGBT equality, but the reality is that majorities of most religious communities and individuals support equality for all people.

In Maryland, many of those who are speaking in support of marriage equality come from faith traditions that are often seen as anti-LGBT. Rev. David Gilmore, a Baptist minister, said, “Yes I am a traditional black Baptist minister [but] I don’t always think like a Baptist.” He hopes that the example he sets will lead to more openness in his community. Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Catholic nun who has been a part of the movement for LGBT inclusion in the Roman Catholic Church since the 1970s also voiced her hope that marriage equality would become a reality in Maryland. Other speakers included Rabbi Daniel Burg, who is the rabbi at Beth Am, a Conservative Synagogue in Baltimore, and Episcopal priest Angela Shepherd, who stated: “many of us maintain our love for humanity by agreeing to disagree and therefore causing no harm [but] our separation of church and state is being compromised.”

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Voices of faith are speaking out in support of marriage equality throughout the country. Rev. Steve Parelli, an evangelical Baptist minister who married his partner in Sacramento in 2008, testified in support of marriage equality in New Jersey. In rejecting civil unions, Rev. Parelli quoted Roger Williams, the Baptist founder of the state of Rhode Island, stating: “Concession and toleration are neither freedom nor liberty.  They are merely other names for oppression because they are the allowance of that which is not wholly approved.” He continued: “Civil Union with all the ‘rights of marriage,’ yet without the name of ‘marriage,’ is not freedom but a concession, is not liberty but toleration; and therefore, Civil Union is but another name for oppression.” The Rev. Dr. Traci C. West, Professor of Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University Theological School also released a statement in support of marriage equality in which she expresses sentiments similar to those of Rev. Parelli.

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Marriage equality in Washington has seen a surge in support among both clergy and lay people in recent weeks. Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Olympia notes that religious communities have often struggled with the idea of inclusion in relation to LGBT people of faith. On his own blog, Rev. Rickel argues that gay and lesbian couples “are not asking for special treatment.  They are asking for equal treatment.   They are asking to be accountable, as a couple, in community.” Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, who describes herself as having “very strong Christian beliefs,” announced late last month that she would vote in favor of marriage equality in Washington. Her decision comes from her Christian beliefs, according to her blog post, which states:

“For as long as I have been alive, living in my country has been about having the freedom to live according to our own personal and religious beliefs, and having people respect that freedom. […] My beliefs dictate who I am and how I live, but I don’t see where my believing marriage is between a man and a woman gives me the right to decide that for everyone else.”

Sen. Haugen, a Democrat in a relatively conservative district in Washington, became the 25th vote in favor of marriage equality, ensuring its passage in the Washington State Senate.

GLAAD would like to commend Revs. Gilmore, Shepherd, Parelli, West, and Rickel, as well as Sister Gramick, Rabbi Berg, Sen. Haugen, and other religious supporters for their thoughtful and nuanced understanding of equality and their support for marriage equality in their home states. We are always pleased to lift up the voices of people of faith who support equality for the LGBT community. We also ask that our readers alert us to any problematic coverage of religious voices and marriage equality.