Same-sex marriage and U.S. religion

TYLER IN MARYLAND ASKS:

(In light of U.S. Supreme Court cases) which congregations in America are the most accepting when it comes to same-sex marriage?

THE GUY ANSWERS:

Timely topic. As with public opinion generally, some U.S. religious groups have shifted toward accepting marriage or other recognition for same-sex couples in recent times. They are far outnumbered by groups that oppose same-sex behavior, a moral tenet that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other faiths agreed upon till the late 20th Century.

Some specifics:

In 1993, the synagogue union in Judaism’s liberal Reform denomination favored “legal recognition” of monogamous same-sex relationships and in 1997 specified support for “civil marriage.” In 2000, Reform’s rabbinical conference declared same-sex relationships “worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual” though not “marriages.” The conference says there’s “diversity of opinions” among rabbis and supports both those who perform these rituals and those who will not.

In 1996, the Unitarian Universalist Association assembly endorsed “legal recognition” for same-sex marriages and urged member congregations to “proclaim the worth” of these unions.

In a 1997 San Francisco visit the Dalai Lama, an influential teacher for U.S. Buddhists, distinguished between religious and secular policies: “From a Buddhist point of view, men-to-men and women-to-women is generally considered sexual misconduct. From society’s viewpoint, mutually agreeable homosexual relations can be of mutual benefit, enjoyable, and harmless.”

In 2005 the United Church of Christ synod affirmed “equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender” as a civil matter and asked local congregations to “consider” providing such marriages.

In 2011, Conservative Judaism’s rabbinical assembly supported extending “civil rights and privileges granted to married persons to same sex couples.” Last year a key committee proposed synagogue rituals for same-sex couples without applying the term “marriage.”

In 2012, the Episcopal Church convention approved a three-year trial of blessing rituals — not called “marriages” — for same-sex couples, if a local bishop approves. Clergy who object will not be disciplined.

Days before that, a 52 percent majority of Presbyterian Church (USA) delegates voted against a nationwide referendum to redefine church marriages as between “two people” instead of a man and woman. A 2000 ruling allows churches to hold same-sex ceremonies so long as they’re distinguished from “marriage.” This is a denomination to watch for future liberalization. [UPDATING June 19, 2014: The PC(USA) assembly by 71 percent passed a constitutional redefinition of church marriage as between "two people, traditionally a man and a woman" instead of only man-and-woman, pending ratification by a majority of its 172 regional units. A companion measure with 61 percent approval immediately allowed clergy to perform same-sex marriages where that's legal]

In 2009 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America assembly stated that the denomination “lacks consensus on this matter,” indicating change is possible. Beliefs differ between liberal and conservative branches of the Friends (Quakers). The small Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, founded in 1968, ministers especially to gays and lesbians and favors tolerance.

[UPDATING April 21, 2013: A conference of the Missouri-based Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) voted to extend marriage to same-sex couples where this is legal in the U.S., to provide church recognition for same-sex couples where it is not, and to ordain persons in monogamous, committed same-sex relationships. The actions  needed approval from top church authorities to go into effect.]

Meanwhile, the list of U.S. churches that clearly oppose same-sex behavior, and thus blessing rituals or marriages, is far broader, including: The Roman Catholic Church; Eastern Orthodoxy; Southern Baptist Convention; United Methodist Church; some but not all major African-American denominations;  Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod; Latter-day Saints (Mormons); and myriad adventist, charismatic, conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist, pentecostal, Reformed, and non-denominational churches.

The Supreme Court’s Proposition 8 case from California drew a brief from an unusual interfaith coalition of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations alongside the National Association of Evangelicals, Southern Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, and the Mormon church. These faiths are most unlikely to budge, whatever secular courts, legislatures, or referendums decide. For them, a major future concern will be religious freedom for organizations and individuals that hold to the traditional belief.

Regarding Islam, note the 2010 fatwa from the president of the Fiqh Council of North America: http://www.islamopediaonline.org/fatwa/dr-siddiqi-north-american-fiqh-council-responds-question-what-islamic-manner-talking-about-hom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.


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