The Facts: Marriage for Same-Sex Couples Does Not Impact Religious Liberty

Support For Marriage High Among Religious Americans: Over 70% of Roman Catholics Believe Civil Marriage Should be Lawful in America
October 10, 2012

Aaron McQuade
Director News and Field Media, GLAAD
(646) 871-8026

Ross Murray
Director of Religion, Faith & Values, GLAAD
(646) 871-8040

New York, NY, October 10, 2012 – GLAAD today issued facts regarding the rising levels of support for marriage for same-sex couples from people of faith and responded to arguments being made that marriage equality will impact religious liberty.

This Election Day, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington all take votes on marriage equality. If passed, Maryland, Maine, and Washington will become the first states to enact marriage equality through voter referendum. LGBT advocates in Minnesota are trying to defeat an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment.

Many of the arguments against LGBT equality tend to use religious language, and one term that has been used by anti-gay activists and voices of faith who don’t support marriage equality is “religious freedom” (or “religious liberty”). Those to espouse this idea assert that any advance for LGBT equality is somehow an attack on religion. This argument has been raised in all four marriage equality states.

Reporters need to keep a few things in mind when listening to religious freedom arguments:

1. There is a distinction between civil marriage and a religious ceremony that blesses a marriage. One-fifth of Americans are religiously unaffiliated today. Increasingly, couples are choosing to have only a civil wedding, with no religion involvement. Many clergy would prefer to bless a marriage, instead of acting as an agent of the state. In many European countries, the “marriage” is done in a civil setting, like a courthouse or city office, while the religious ceremony is held separately. Theologian Tony Jones writes, “Were we to separate legal and sacramental marriage, it would solve all sorts of problems, not the least of which is the growing discomfort that many of us have that legal marriage is available only to some responsible adults who are in monogamous relationships.”

  • The language of Referendum 74 in Washington explicitly states that the law will “preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.”
  • The language on the ballot in Maryland, “protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.”

2. No religion is uniformly opposed to LGBT equality or marriage equality. Within every religion is an LGBT affinity organization. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force lists 52 Christian LGBT organizations and 28 multi-faith LGBT organizations. These groups include Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and fundamentalist Christians, traditions often portrayed as opposing LGBT equality. To paint any religious group as anti-LGBT is to ignore the adherents of that religion who are LGBT or supportive.

3. Several denominations and religious groups support marriage equality as a matter of doctrine. The Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Christ, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, and the Unitarian Universalist Association have supported marriage equality for decades. More recently, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Episcopal Church, and the Conservative Jewish movement have all  supported the right of clergy and congregations to perform weddings for gay and lesbian couples. Anti-gay activists are not interested in protecting the religious liberty of denominations with pro-LGBT doctrines.

4. Many anti-LGBT activists tend to portray themselves as under attack from outside forces, when much of the improving attitude toward LGBT people comes from within those denominations. The Roman Catholic hierarchy has been using “religious freedom” as a talking point a long time now, stating that those who support LGBT people are attacking the faith. However, seven in ten Catholics in America support marriage equality. Verbal assaults on LGBT people from Roman Catholic hierarchy is in conflict with their own base, which is overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT people.

5. Anti-LGBT religious leaders are actively working to suppress dissention within their own denominations. This is again most apparent in the Roman Catholic Church. Employees at Catholic institutions have been fired from their jobs for seeking marriage with their partners. One straight Catholic school teacher was fired because she opposed the proposed marriage amendment in Minnesota. Archbishop John Nienstedt , who is leading the effort to pass the anti-marriage amendment in Minnesota, told a mother that her salvation would be in jeopardy if she continued to support her gay child. Archbishop John Myers of Newark New Jersey said that marriage equality supporters should not receive communion. And most famously, Barbara Johnson was denied communion and snubbed by the priest at her own mother’s funeral because she is a lesbian.

GLAAD reminds reporters to remember these facts when issues of marriage equality are being reported. It will put the claims of “attacks on religious freedom” into context.