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These Religious Leaders Are Celebrating Marriage Equality

CREDIT: AP
CREDIT: AP

When the U.S. Supreme Court decided to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide last Friday, prominent conservative Christians who oppose marriage equality wasted little time voicing their disapproval, saying it violated their religious convictions.

Louisiana Gov. and GOP candidate Bobby Jindal called the decision “an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians,” adding that “marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that.” Several conservative religious leaders such as Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention also expressed dismay, as did former Baptist minister and fellow GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who predicted that Christians would begin using civil disobedience to protest the ruling.

“I don’t think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice [but to protest the decision],” Huckabee said. “They’re either going to follow God, what they truly believe, or they will follow civil law.”

Yet even as Huckabee and others invoked God in their opposition to the court’s decision, the move to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide was actually lauded by a multitude spiritual leaders and religious communities across the country. In fact, despite conservative claims to the contrary, people of faith are deeply supportive of LGBT rights in the United States, as recent polls show majorities of nearly every major American Christian group now back marriage equality.

I see God as whatever brings people closer to justice and compassion.

Several Christian organizations, for example, issued statements celebrating the change, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), which voted earlier this year to endorse marriage equality as a denomination.

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“The PC(USA) has advocated for almost four decades for civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons,” Gradye Parsons, the PC(USA)’s Stated Clerk and one of the church’s highest officers, told the Presbyterian News Service. “Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is in keeping with that work.”

But formal statements were hardly the most boisterous celebrations on Friday. In a curious twist of fate, the decision came down at a time when many Christian denominations and faith groups — particularly progressive religious traditions — were holding national conferences.

Over in Portland, Oregon, pastors and delegates attending the annual conference of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) — which has a long history of supporting LGBT rights — responded to the news with prayerful glee. Rev. Nathan Ryan, a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told ThinkProgress that he heard people shouting as information about the case began to trickle in, with many LGBT Unitarian Universalists excitedly texting friends during worship soon thereafter.

LGBT couples attending the UUA conference were invited onstage shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court. CREDIT: Nathan Ryan
LGBT couples attending the UUA conference were invited onstage shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court. CREDIT: Nathan Ryan

“You could see people crying in the service,” Ryan said, adding that the president of the UUA also invited same-sex couples on stage after the announcement so they could be publicly honored. “I see God as whatever brings people closer to justice and compassion. The government is finally acknowledging what the church has known all along, but been too afraid to acknowledge.”

Ryan also noted that he plans to begin performing marriages as soon as he returns to Louisiana, even though his state government is threatening to ignore the court’s ruling.

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“Really the question is, who makes a marriage?” he said. “I think it’s the couple and the church, not the state signing some certificate.”

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Ohio, the annual assembly of the United Church of Christ (UCC) reportedly burst into cheers upon hearing the news, with many rushing down the block to join a rally and pray to “thank God for bestowing equality on all couples, and for an end for other discrimination and violence against God’s children.” UCC pastors then erected a tent to recruit ministers to wed same-sex couples, and many began blessing unions in front of city hall.

The news triggered a similar response in Salt Lake City, Utah, where members of the Episcopal Church — which, like the UCC, ordains openly LGBT people and technically already allows many priests to officiate same-sex marriages — were debating whether or not to approve a full, formal embrace of marriage equality. According to the Episcopal News Service, people began applauding in various committee meetings throughout the convention center as they learned of the decision, and several longtime supporters of LGBT rights within the church expressed joy at the new law.

The “wedding booth” at the United Church of Christ annual convention. CREDIT: Jack Davidson
The “wedding booth” at the United Church of Christ annual convention. CREDIT: Jack Davidson

“I believe that God works for justice night and day, and when the church doesn’t follow God’s lead, God sometimes works in the culture,” Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop ordained by the Episcopal Church, told the Episcopal News Service. “And so, this is a victory for God. Now, The Episcopal Church gets to decide if it wants to join God in that justice.”

Other progressive mainline Christian leaders also praised the move to grant LGBT people across the country the legal right to marry, like Nadia Bolz-Weber, a popular author and Lutheran pastor serving the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, and Amy Butler, Senior Minister of the historic Riverside Church in the City of New York. They were joined by some evangelical leaders as well, such as Rev. Jim Wallis, President of the Christian social justice group Sojourners.

“Today the Supreme Court affirmed that fairness under the law belongs to everyone. Today we took another step toward living up to our highest ideals,” Wallis said. “It is true, as Justice Kennedy said, that ‘the nature of injustice is that we don’t always see it in our own time.’ But when we do see it, we must act to overcome it.”

We believe in a God that includes, not excludes.

And in Austin, Texas, Central Presbyterian Church teamed up with LGBT advocacy group Texas for Marriage on Friday evening to host an event in their sanctuary commemorating the Court’s ruling. Rev. Kimberly Smith-Rogers, an associate pastor at the church who opened the festivities, told ThinkProgress she invited many of the attendees to return to the church on Sunday, where the congregation “gave thanks for equality finally trickling down to Texas.”

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“We believe in a God that includes, not excludes,” Smith-Rogers said, adding that she is already receiving requests to officiate marriages across the state.

She also, like Ryan, strongly rebuked the Christian Right’s resistance to the ruling, and challenged oft-cited claims by some Republicans regarding religious liberty.

“We have politicians [who opposed marriage equality] saying we need to protect religious freedom, but my religious freedom is to protect the rights of my people and to make everyone is treated fairly with love and kindness,” she said.