Evangelicals Are Evolving Quickly On Gay Marriage — And That’s A Good Thing

David Lampo Author, "A Fundamental Freedom"
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It’s no secret that public opinion on the issue of same sex marriage is rapidly changing: a clear majority of Americans now support it, a development unthinkable just a few years ago. Even a large number of Republicans are now in support, including over 60 percent of Republican Millennials, those under 30.

Over 40 percent of evangelical Millennials also support it, and there are even growing cracks in the wall of opposition among social conservative and evangelical leaders. One of the latest to throw in the towel is Carmen Fowler LaBerge, a former Presbyterian minister who heads the Presbyterian Lay Committee, a group of conservative congregations who broke away from the Presbyterian Church after it voted last year to ordain noncelibate gay clergy.

LaBerge recently told the Washington Times that she believes there is now a consensus within the evangelical movement that the culture war on traditional marriage has been lost, and the overwhelming support for same-sex marriage among younger voters would seem to indicate that. Freely admitting that the marriage battle has been won by supporters of SSM, she and fellow evangelicals are turning their attention to a different battle, the one to protect their own religious freedoms, including keeping their churches free of any mandates involving gay rights or same-sex marriage. Although in her view the Bible is clear on homosexuality and traditional marriage, she nonetheless concedes that “I don’t live in a country that’s governed by that document; I live in a country that’s governed by the Constitution.”

She is one of a growing number of evangelicals who realize that whatever their personal views of homosexuality, the demographic and cultural changes of the last two decades have all but guaranteed their loss on this issue. But she is not the first.

In 2011, the year when national polling first recorded public support for SSM exceeding opposition to it, James Daly, then CEO of Focus on the Family, one of the most powerful anti-gay rights group in the nation, said (lamenting the growing support for marriage equality), “We’re losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don’t know if that’s going to change with a little more age — demographers would say probably not.” He was right.

In 2012, David Blankenhorn, then a well-known opponent of SSM and supporter of Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment in California that banned same-sex marriage, created an uproar on the right when he wrote an oped in the New York Times recanting his position and stating that his Christian beliefs compelled him to change his mind.  He was ostracized by his former allies for this “coming out,” and his organization, the Institute for American Values, suffered financially, but today, his institute is thriving as one that promotes marriage for all.

Yet another recent conservative convert to marriage equality is Matthew Schmitz, the Catholic deputy editor of First Things, one of the most prominent conservative  faith publications. Just last month, Schmitz published an article entitled “How I Evolved on Gay Marriage,” which, though he remains opposed to marriage equality, suggests that there is value in making the institution more inclusive.

Given the ongoing change in public opinion on this issue, it was only a matter of time before an organization of evangelicals who support same-sex marriage was born. Last month, that happened.

Called Evangelicals for Marriage Equality and founded by two straight evangelical Christians, Michael Saltsman and Josh Dickson, its launch included an essay in Time magazine by spokesman Brandan Robertson, another Bible-believing evangelical who graduated from the Moody Bible Institute. As Robertson wrote in the piece, he and his colleagues are not watering down their faith, as some has charged. They are, instead, “making a distinction between theology and politics,” reaffirming Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state. “Our commitment to following Christ leads us to speak out for equal treatment under the law for others,” he writes, “whether or not they share our religious convictions.”

That is a message that all people of faith, as well as those who believe in limited government, should be able to support.

David Lampo is author of A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights and serves on the national board of Log Cabin Republicans.

Correction: This piece initially characterized Matthew Schmitz as a supporter of marriage equality; he is not. The text has been revised. We regret the error.