ARTICLE OF FAITH: Love, integrity and justice for all
- from the National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR), convened by
the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force...
ARTICLE OF FAITH
Love, integrity and justice for all
By the Rev. Debra W. Haffner and Timothy Palmer
Two years ago, for a brief few months, marriage equality seemed like
it would become a reality across the United States. In response to the
2003 decision in Massachusetts, brave local officials and clergy began
performing wedding ceremonies from San Francisco to Oregon to tiny New
One of us had the privilege of performing weddings in New Paltz, under
the watchful eyes of police and pro-bono attorneys. The importance of
religious marriage rather than civil unions became clear that day. Two
men in their sixties who had been together more than 30 years stood
before a minister on a cold March day and exchanged marriage vows. One
of their mothers - a woman well into her 90s - stood beside them,
softly crying. "I've waited my whole life to see my son married," she
In those extraordinary days in 2004, when same-sex couples responded
by the thousands to the opportunities to have marriages performed for
them, Americans learned that the movement for marriage equality is
about more than securing legal rights and recognition for same-sex
couples. There is no question that civil protections are essential,
but there is also a soul-pressing need for equal access to religious
rites of passage. The religious call for marriage equality is an
appeal for justice, rooted in both our innate desire for right
relationship and our scriptural mandate. As a holy covenant, marriage
lies at the heart of our religious responsibility to encourage
faithful, loving relationships, strengthen families, promote social
stability and ensure the well-being of the communities we serve.
Opponents argue that same-sex marriage defies biblical tradition. But
depending on which book you read, the biblical standard for marriage
embraces polygamy, forbids divorce, allows surrogacy, forbids
interfaith unions, regards women as property and makes adultery
punishable by death. Much more relevant to today's debates, both the
Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scripture call us to "love our neighbor
as ourselves" and be just and compassionate. Scripture neither
commends a single marriage model nor commands all to marry, but rather
calls for love, integrity and justice in all relationships.
Fortunately, growing numbers of religious leaders and denominations
are answering this call. A few denominations - the Central Conference
of American Rabbis, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United
Church of Christ and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan
Community Churches - have passed resolutions supporting marriage
equality and their clergy perform marriage rites for all. Others,
including the American Baptist Churches, the Disciples of Christ, the
Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA), leave the decision
to perform same-sex unions to their clergy, congregations and local
governing bodies. Many clergy in other denominations bravely risk
their credentials to solemnize the relationships of same-sex couples.
Each religious group must surely have the right to discern who is
eligible for marriage in its own tradition. But equally important, all
clergy should be free to perform marriages without state interference
or second judgments on the right to form a family acknowledged by the
Two years ago, the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice,
and Healing published An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage
Equality, outlining the religious foundations for securing the freedom
to marry for same-sex couples. Created by a group of theologians from
the Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist traditions, the Open
Letter argues that "good marriages express the religious values of
long-term commitment, generativity, and faithfulness. In terms of
these religious values, there is no difference in marriages between a
man and a woman, two men, or two women." The Open Letter has been
endorsed by hundreds of faith leaders, and many more continue to sign on.
It is time that these religious voices are heard in public debates
about marriage equality. It is time for states to recognize that many
religious traditions already perform marriages and unions for same-sex
couples and to recognize those rites. It is time for relational
justice for all.
The Rev. Debra W. Haffner is co-founder and director of the Religious
Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and a member of the
steering committee of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable.
Timothy Palmer is an intern minister with the Religious Institute.
Responses from National Religious Leadership Roundtable Members
"Someone wise once said that marriage is the intersection of society
and the soul. It is not just a certificate or a quest for benefits.
Marriage is a right of two hearts made one. It is a spiritual
recognition and a state confirmation. Therefore, the Religious Affairs
Program of the National Black Justice Coalition strongly supports
equal marriage between committed couples. We believe that marriage
rights should be extended to lesbians and gay men as a simple matter
of justice. We support this Article of Faith, because we believe in
equal justice for equal souls."
- Sylvia Rhue, Ph.D.
Director of Religious Affairs and Constituency Development
National Black Justice Coalition
"Marriage is a covenant between two people embodying and reflecting
their love and commitment to each other irrespective of gender, race,
class or sexual identity. The nadir of ecclesiastical responsibility
are those churches and clerics who refuse to consecrate the nuptials
of same-sex couples. The concept of marriage as solely a heterosexual
enterprise is antithetical to Jesus' mandate in both Matthew 19:6 and
Mark 10:9 that says, 'What God has joined together, let no one put
asunder.' And handcuffing marriage to a one-woman, one-man family
values platform not only chokes its possibility of ever flourishing
and lasting, especially as we are coming to understand the fluidity of
gender expressions and sexual identities, but it also desecrates the
wonderfully different and diverse configurations of God's human family."
- Rev. Irene Monroe
Harvard Divinity School
"At least five synods (regional units) of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America have passed formal statements approving blessings of
same-gender relationships by clergy in those synods. As the author of
the first two of those resolutions, it has been a joy to see more and
more Lutheran congregations move toward not only blessing those
relationships, but affirming the equality of couples who worship and
live faithfully within those relationships in Lutheran churches."
- Bob Gibeling, Lutheran
National Religious Leadership Roundtable Member
"As an openly gay imam of the Islamic faith and provider of religious
services for the LGBTQ Muslim communities worldwide, I support this
Article of Faith. As a scholar of Islamic Law and Quranic
Interpretation, marriage equality is strongly supported by Quran
because the Quran calls for all Muslims and members of the Book (Jews,
Christians and other faiths) to have their 'comfort and cloak,'
meaning each person has both a need for sexual intimacy and protection
from the ravages of society.
"Though some Muslims will publicly state that marriage equality, as it
relates to Muslim women, is an important legal concept covered by the
Quran, even to the extent that women have certain inalienable rights
within a marriage that cultural adaptations cannot ignore or deny.
Yet, few Muslims are willing to publicly state that this standard
holds true for LGBTQ Muslims. Why this is so, is because many are
unsure of what Quran says or does not say about same-sex marriages.
Some believe the Quranic stories about Lut/Lot is definitive on
same-sex relationships, while others believe the Quran is allegorical
and that each person has the right to have a monogamous marriage
regardless of their sexual orientation. I say to those who believe and
hold that LGBTQ Muslims should be denied marriage equality are
misguided, shortsighted and misunderstand human rights tenets with the
Holy Quran. Further, to apply such narrowly-proscribed tenets within
the context of American society - where they are able to manifest an
Islamic life free of legal, political and cultural restraints -
definitely falls short of the freewill Allah/God provides all of His
creation to live happy and meaningful lives as Muslims. I therefore
call upon all Muslims to support marriage equality for all."
- Imam Daayiee Abdullah
Board Member, Al-Fatiha, Washington, D.C.
"It is time for people of faith and society to come to terms with the
truth that gender is not a defining characteristic for whether a
couple is able to live the vocation of marriage, and that
same-gender-loving couples are equally able to live the vocation of
marriage as are heterosexual couples. Marriage is about relationships
and the movement toward marriage equality has come in large measure
because same-gender-loving relationships have been made increasingly
real and visible.
"What moves us forward in this movement toward equality are those who
are willing to make clear who is bearing the cost of marriage
discrimination in the U.S. The stories of how this form of
discrimination affects our families, friends, colleagues, neighbors
and their children make a difference. Through these stories more and
more people come to know that marriage discrimination is not only
costly and unfair, it is unjust and inconsistent with the values of
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that we hold dear as a
nation and project to the world. These stories help all of us to
realize that those of us who are struggling for equality are right to
be impatient. Regardless of where you are on the political continuum -
conservative, liberal, progressive - there are good, strong and
compelling grounds to support marriage equality now."
- Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer
Minister for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns
Wider Church Ministries, United Church of Christ
"It is significantly important that the truth of longstanding
recognition and support of same-sex couples by religious leaders and
their denominations be included in the dialogue. Furthermore, an
appreciation for the ongoing discussion within denominations and their
various approaches to honoring sincere differences can only advance
broader understanding instead of stilted thinking. This Article of
Faith is a welcome addition to the resources available for thoughtful
consideration by each person of faith."
- Rev. Cedric A. Harmon
"Marriage is a legal act by which certain civil privileges accrue. In
religious terms, it is a way communities of friends and family affirm
and bless love relationships. In a legal democracy and in religious
traditions that affirm human equality there is no justification for
preventing any two consenting adults from marrying. While marriage is
not necessarily the best or only way to organize a society, as long as
it continues to be legally and religiously normative it must be
available across the board or not at all."
- Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D.
Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual
"Survey after survey shows that in the Catholic Church, people in the
pews are eager and willing to bless same-sex relationships. Catholic
theologians, similarly, have no problem with the idea of extending the
sacrament of matrimony to same-sex couples. Catholic bishops need to
listen to the call of the Holy Spirit, which is busy in the hearts of
millions of Catholics and the discerning minds of the church's
- Francis DeBernardo
New Ways Ministry
"Marriage matters. I am blessed that I am part of a denomination
(Reform Judaism) that has struggled with the question and said that
yes, same-gender-unions are holy and should be recognized as such with
the appropriate religious ceremony performed by our clergy. I met my
son when he was four and a half years old. He called me Joel and his
father was Papa. When he was seven years old, I married his father in
a large religious ceremony that he had an active part in. About a week
before the ceremony, he started calling me 'Dad' and it was Dad this
and Dad that in every sentence and question. A few days after the
ceremony, as we sat around the table, he said, 'Dad, remember when I
used to call you Joel?' as if it was years ago and not just two weeks.
I said yes and asked what had brought about the change. He looked at
me as if it were the most obvious thing in the world and said, 'You
got married to Papa.' I smiled and thought about what had created
family for my young son. Marriage matters."
- Joel L. Kushner, Psy.D.
Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation
Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Pedro Julio Serrano, Communications Coordinator
The National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR), convened by the
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is an interfaith network of
leaders from pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) faith,
spiritual and religious organizations. We work in partnership with
other groups to promote understanding of and respect for LGBT people
within society at large and in communities of faith. We promote
understanding and respect within LGBT communities for a variety of
faith paths and for religious liberty, and to achieve commonly held
goals that promote equality, spirituality and justice.