Churches debate role of gays after Supreme Court decision

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Breanna Deutsch Contributor
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Wednesday’s Supreme Court gay marriage had many hearing wedding bells, but debate continues over which churches will let them chime.

President Barack Obama vowed that churches would not be forced to perform gay marriages if they conflict with church teachings.

“How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions,” Obama said in a statement. “Nothing about this decision — which applies only to civil marriages — changes that.”

But religious institutions do not all speak with one voice on the issue. While most denominations oppose gay marriage and homosexual behavior, survey data shows certain groups of churchgoers take a more liberal stance on gay marriage. This past year the Public Religion Research Institute conducted a study that broke down public support of gay marriage by religious group.

“More than 8-in-10 (81 percent) Jewish Americans, 59 percent of Hispanic Catholics, 58 percent of white Catholics, and 55 percent of white mainline Protestants favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally…. A slim majority (51 percent) of white evangelical Protestants under the age of 35 support same-sex marriage.”

Many other religious people still oppose gay marriage, however.

“More than 7-in-10 (71 percent) white evangelical Protestants, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Hispanic Protestants, and 57 percent of black Protestants oppose same-sex marriage.”

Some churches have changed their position on gay marriage and homosexuality in general.

The United Church of Christ, most non-Orthodox Jews and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are some of the mainstream religious groups that allow individual congregations to decide whether or not to administer gay marriage ceremonies. Episcopal and Presbyterian priests in the United States cannot officially recognize or administer gay marriages, but can give their blessing to gay couples.

The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, the United Church of Christ’s (UCC) executive and minister for LGBT concerns, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the UCC has a long history of “of supporting justice and equality for all people including persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.”

In 2005, the UCC’s General Synod passed the “Equal Marriage Rights for All” resolution, allowing each individual church to autonomously decide whether or not to administer gay marriages. Schuenemeyer says that churches that preform such ceremonies display signs that read “Open and Affirming.”

Schuenemeyer believes that in the coming years we will “absolutely” begin to see more pastors preside over gay marriage ceremonies throughout the country. He attributes this partially to the “guidance from the Constitution that grants equal protection under the law for every citizen and that all people are created equally,” but primarily because “more people are sharing their stories, more people are willing to be open, more people know someone who is gay, and they are finding that the character of these relationships and the character of the people involved in these relationships meet the standard of what their religious teachings talk about.”

Stephen Padre of Reconciling Works, an organization working for the “full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church and congregations,” agrees.

“I think the tide of history is turning and I do not think there is any going back,” he told TheDC News Foundation. “People are realizing that it is a very important to open up the freedom to marry and grant it to anybody and everybody. So I think it will continue to expand, but certainly there will be people who will be hesitant and apprehensive about being more open to that idea.”

Pope Francis affirmed that the Catholic Church will not be changing its stand.

“[Gay marriage] is an anthropological step backward. If there’s a private union, then third parties and society aren’t affected,” he said in a statement. “But if they’re granted marriage rights and can adopt, there could be children affected. Every person needs a masculine father and a feminine mother to help them settle their identity.”

The Catholic Church’s stance is also taken by Southern Baptists, Mormons and United Methodists.

A number of religious leaders from these various denominations voiced their concerns in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told fellow Southern Baptists about the important role marriage plays in the Church.

God designed the one-flesh union of marriage as an embedded icon of the union between Christ and his church,” Moore said in a statement. “Marriage and sexuality, among the most powerful pulls in human existence, are designed to train humanity to recognize, in the fullness of time, what it means for Jesus to be one with his church, as a head with a body.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, see the court’s ruling as a call for action.

“Now that the Supreme Court has issued its decisions, with renewed purpose we call upon all of our leaders and the people of this good nation to stand steadfastly together in promoting and defending the unique meaning of marriage: one man, one woman, for life,” they said in a statement.

The churches opposed to gay marriage and homosexuality are far larger than the denominations taking a more liberal position.

As of 2012, the Catholic Church leads the nation with the largest church membership. The 2012 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reported the  68,202,492 people. Ranking second was the Southern Baptist Convention with 16,136,044 members and then the United Methodist Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ranked fourth and was one of the few churches that actually reported membership growth.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ sat further down the list on the yearbook’s membership ranking. All of these churches reported greater losses in membership between 2011 and 2012 than the top four churches with the greatest membership.

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