As the Supreme Court prepares to take up another same-sex marriage case, other states are still fighting to defend their bans on same-sex couples marrying. One of those states is Missouri, where a federal court overturned the ban in November. With the case now before the Eighth Circuit on appeal, the nation’s largest religious organizations have chimed in to express their support for upholding Missouri’s ban.
An amicus brief has been filed in the case by a coalition representing the largest Christian denominations in the country: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Recognizing their similar position on the issue, these religious groups argue that support for a ban on same-sex marriage has nothing to do with homosexuality nor any intent to discriminate against the gay community.
They assert this claim over a dozen times throughout the brief. Here are some examples:
- “The accusation [of “ignorance or actual hostility”] is false and offensive. It is intended to suppress rational dialogue and civil conversation, to win by insult and intimidation rather than by persuasion, experience, and fact.”
- “Our support for the historic meaning of marriage arises from a positive vision of ‘the family’… and not from animosity toward anyone.”
- “Our teachings seldom focus on sexual orientation or homosexuality.”
- “Our faith communities bear no ill will toward same-sex couples.”
- “Faith communities like amici have long histories of upholding traditional marriage for reasons that have nothing to do with homosexuality.”
- “These fundamental Catholic teachings about marriage do not mention and have nothing to do with same-sex attraction.”
- “Homosexuality is not central to Evangelical teachings on marriage.”
- “Here again [in Mormon doctrine], homosexuality is remote from teachings about marriage and family.”
The intention of this messaging is clear. They hope to persuade the court that there is a valid reason for the state’s ban on same-sex marriage that isn’t just about discriminating against same-sex couples.
Despite the claims in their briefs, these religious groups speak about homosexuality in conjunction with their views on marriage at every turn. The ERLC’s fall conference was called “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” and Biblical teachings on homosexuality were at the core of its marriage conversations. The Vatican’s recent Humanum conference about marriage specifically justified its positions by rejecting the nature of homosexuality and highlighting the voices of ex-gays. Mormon leaders worry that marriage equality will lead to more violations of God’s law requiring chastity for gay people, not to mention they had to specify to volunteers campaigning for California’s Proposition 8 that “the less we refer to homosexuality, the better.”
After its numerous attempts to claim that these groups are not disparaging homosexuality, the brief proceeds to instead then champion different-sex couples. “A man and woman uniquely complement one another spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and physically,” the Catholics assert in their section. The brief also argues that man-woman couples are superior for raising children, citing multiple studies that did not even assess same-sex parenting. Despite the irrelevance of these studies, the brief openly claims that limiting marriage to a man and a woman will somehow protect children from broken homes. “Children need their mothers and fathers,” it explains, “That is why society needs the institution of male-female marriage and why Missouri is right to specially protect and support it.” The law, the brief claims, also “encourages socially optimal behavior.”
The last time the Supreme Court considered a same-sex marriage case, the Howard University School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic pointed out that the arguments against same-sex marriage are identical to the arguments that were made against interracial marriage. Arguments that people of the same race “complement each other” better, that same-race parents are superior for children, that same-race families are less comparable to broken homes, and that sexual activity with the same race is “socially optimal behavior” all sound racist today. The religious organizations’ focus on heterosexual relations as superior encounters the same problem of degrading same-sex relations by inference.
The religious organizations simultaneously try to build a case that they, in fact, are victims as a result of these accusations of bigotry. The brief later claims that the ban should not be overturned because citizens and their elected representatives should be able to “participate freely in the processes of self-government as believers.” Ignoring how the ban might infringe on the rights of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and their families, it warns that ruling in favor of marriage equality would unfairly “brand Missouri voters as irrational or bigoted.”
Much of the brief is recycled from similar briefs the same coalition of groups has issued in the past, such as in the appeal of the Utah marriage case. The arguments failed in that case, with the Tenth Circuit concluding that “these freedoms — to choose one’s spouse, to decide whether to conceive or adopt a child, to publicly proclaim an enduring commitment to remain together through thick and thin — reinforce the childrearing family structure.” The court was unconvinced by arguments about marriage’s supposedly necessary connection to procreation because different-sex couples could already marry “regardless of the pairing’s procreative capacity,” not to mention that many same-sex couples were already raising children of their own. Only same-sex couples were targeted by the ban, and “extending the benefits and protections of a civil society to some but not all similarly situated families violates [the Equal Protection Clause].”
Dozens of lower courts have agreed that only same-sex couples are unfairly impacted by the bans, and the Supreme Court has allowed their decisions to stand, suggesting they are ready for nationwide same-sex marriage. In fact, the number of marriage equality states has almost doubled in just the last year as a result of these decisions. As the largest Christian denominations in the country are taking what may be their final stands against marriage equality, it is now that much harder for them to convince judges that they aren’t simply trying to limit the rights of same-sex families.
(HT: Equality Case Files.)