Sunday, August 7, 2011

Does Gay Marriage Trample Over Religious Liberty?

The Des Moines Register editorial board met last week with Rick Santorum, who apparently went nuts over oil drilling in Alaska.  The editorial board offered up quotes on other issues, such as ethanol and two-income household, and education.  But it was his comments on marriage equality that grabbed my attention:
ON LEGAL GAY MARRIAGE: “Religious liberty is now trumped because … the courts have created a ‘super’ right that’s above a right that’s actually in the Constitution, and that’s of sexual liberty. And I think that’s a wrong, that’s a destructive element.”
Santorum has it wrong.  Religious liberty isn't trumped because I now have the legal right to marry my husband here in Iowa.  In fact, religious liberty has been expanded because of this expansion.  I belong to the United Church of Christ.  This Christian denomination has been around for over 50 years.  Like a few other Christian denominations and a few non-Christian religions, the UCC welcomes GLBT people in all areas of Christian worship (from membership to leadership -- both on a local level and at the larger denominational level).  There are exceptions within the denomination, but overall it is a gay-inclusive place to worship.  Back in 2005, the UCC's 25th General Synod overwhelmingly affirmed a resolution In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All (i.e., inclusive of gay and lesbian couples). 

Long before the UCC's EMR resolution, the Metropolitan Community Church was performing commitment ceremonies for GLBT couples.  The MCC officiated at its first commitment ceremony back in 1969.  The MCC's founder, Reverend Elder Troy Perry, filed the first U.S. lawsuit seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriages back in 1970.  This effort was unsuccessful, but every movement needs to start somewhere.

Local UCC churches have performed commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples long before the UCC's EMR resolution.  Mark and I were first wed at the UCC in a purely religious ceremony back in 1997.  We weren't the first and we certainly haven't been the last.

My point?  I have long found it ironic that people have used the issue of religious liberty to argue against legal recognition of gay and lesbian marriages.  In fact, most churches have actively trampled over the religious liberties of GLBT people and progressive religious people who believe that GLBT families are equally valid and precious as any heterosexual family.

Religious people have been forced to respect differing religious beliefs and practices.  It's part of living in a multicultural society.  Even within the Christian denomination, religious people have tolerated people who hold diverse thoughts on the role of women, the legitimacy of divorce, and a multitude of religious taboos that some practice and others don't. 

Allowing gay and lesbian couples the legal right to marry doesn't destroy the religious liberties of those whose religion don't recognize such marriage.  And it certainly doesn't add any more religious differences for people to sidestep, given that churches have already been performing gay weddings and grappling with the place of gays in the church long before any U.S. government recognized any gay or lesbian family.  Meanwhile, individual churches and other places of worship continue to have the ability to officiate at any wedding that they choose -- just as they retain the right to refuse to officiate at any wedding that they choose, gay or straight.

Allowing gay and lesbian couples the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage instead enhances the religious liberties.  Churches like the UCC and the MCC can continue performing weddings for gay families.  The difference?  The government respects and honors the beliefs of those churches, just like it has long respected and honored the beliefs of other churches and places of worship.

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