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There are various religious views on same-sex marriage. Arguments both in favour of and in opposition to same-sex marriage are often made on religious grounds and/or formulated in terms of religious doctrine. An increasing number of religions and various religious denominations are conducting same-sex marriages in modern times.  And the church and the world’s religions are no exception.   Should all faiths and traditions treat everyone equal regardless of gender orientation?  Or do they want to alienate and loose those members that are GLBT due to the unwillingness to accept them and their lifestyle?

Support and affirmation of marriage rights for same-sex couples increasingly come from certain Christian denominations that are theologically considered liberal. Some examples of religious organizations voicing their support for marriage equality including Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Christ, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church of the United States, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Unitarian Universalists church which has long supported the rights of gays and lesbians to marry both in the church and through the state.  Numerous progressive congregations and organizations within mainline Christian denominations, that have not yet officially voiced official support for marriage equality, have spoken out themselves in support of equal marriage rights in the church and through the state.

 Some biblical scholars who hold to a more theologically liberal Christian view of marriage equality make the claim that the word “homosexual” as found in many modern versions of the Bible is a transliteration and is not found in the original biblical texts.   This argument from scripture holds that since the original authors of the Bible never mention ‘homosexuals’ or committed Christian homosexual couples, there cannot exist a biblical prohibition of marriage rights for them.  It is also believed that biblical texts interpreted by some to discuss homosexuality refer only to specific sex acts and idolatrous worship which lack relevance to contemporary same-sex relationships.  Christians who support religious and legal recognition of same-sex marriage may base their belief in marriage equality on the view that marriage, as an institution, and the structure of the family is a biblical moral imperative that should be honored by all couples, heterosexual and homosexual alike. Supporting marriage rights for gays and lesbians reflects their Christ-like commitment to the equality and dignity of all people.  It is believed by some that, “human sexual orientations, whether heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual, are a gift from God.”

Other Christian denominations support the legality of same-sex marriage and perform same-sex weddings and blessings religiously. The three largest of these denominations in North America are the Episcopal Church of the United States, the United Church of Canada, and the United Church of Christ.

Some same-sex married couples have challenged religious organizations that exclude them from access to public facilities maintained by those organizations, such as schools, health care centers, social service agencies, summer camps, homeless shelters, nursing homes, orphanages, retreat houses, community centers, and athletic programs. Opponents of same-sex marriages have expressed concerns that this limits their religious freedoms.  Conservatives worry that a Christian college would risk its tax-exempt status by refusing to admit a legally married gay couple to married-student housing.Some legal analysts suggest that failure to reflect gay rights within their organizations may cost some religious groups their tax-exempt status.

 Americans United for Separation of Church and State argue that by defining marriage as an opposite-sex institution, the state infringes upon the constitutional right to freedom of religion. Religious arguments for and against marriage rights for same-sex couples are not always evenly divided among theologically conservative religious groups and liberal groups. While self-identified theological liberal organizations such as the Religious Society for Friends (Quakers), support marriage equality, other more conservative and or orthodox organizations including some Mennonite churches, the Church of the Brethren, the Old Catholic Church, and the Church of Sweden also support marriage rights for gay and lesbian persons.

The United Church of Canada was active in the campaign that led to legal recognition of same-sex marriages in Canada. The United Church now allows individual congregations to decide whether or not to perform these marriages.   Likewise, in the Protestant Church of the Netherlands, where same-sex marriages have been legal since 2001, individual congregations decide if they will perform them.     Some Christians support religious and legal recognition of same-sex marriages based on a moral commitment to equality, or a belief that “human sexual orientations, whether heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual, are a gift from God”, as affirmed by the United Church of Canada’s 37th General Council.

Even within the Roman Catholic Church, there is a bit of internal dissent. For example, while the Vatican and most of the Roman Catholic hierarchy oppose same sex marriages, there are some Catholic theologians who support gay marriages.

At the 1996 United States  Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, delegates voted overwhelmingly that they would perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, and the church has been performing weddings with and without state sanction ever since.  Likewise Canadian Unitarian Universalist congregations perform same-sex marriages and the Canadian Unitarian Council their national organization supports this work through its Lay Chaplaincy program.   The British Unitarian Church is at the forefront of the struggle for equal marriage rights.   Members of Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism support marriages for same-sex couples. The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation leaves the choice to individual rabbis.

Due to the ambivalent language about homosexuality in Buddhist teachings, there has been no official stance put forth regarding the issue of marriage between members of the same gender. There is no objection of the Buddha found in the Tipitaka. Buddha was neither supportive nor against marriages between members of the same gender.   It is clear that the Buddha acknowledged the difference between hermaphrodites and homosexual practitioners. Hermaphrodites and eunuchs are not allowed to be ordained, but there is no sanction against homosexuality. As for the lay homosexual people, Buddha gave no rule or advice as to whether they should be allowed to marry or not. Buddha posted himself simply as the one who shows the way. He did not insist that he had any right to enforce on others what they should do. With this principle, the original teachings of the Buddha do not cover social ceremonies or rituals. Weddings and marriages of all kinds are regarded as mundane and have no place in Buddhism.

There are both conservative and liberal views about homosexuality and same-sex marriages in Hinduism, similar to many other religions.   The head priest of the Srirangam temple has said that same-sex lovers must have been cross-sex lovers in a former life. The sex may change but the soul retains its attachments, hence the love impels these souls towards one another.  A writer/reporter for GALVA – The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association, Inc. interviewed a Shaiva priest who performed the marriage of two women; having studied Hindu scriptures,  he  concluded, “Marriage is a union of spirits, and the spirit is not male or female”    ” The phenomena of increased visibility of same-sex weddings “…suggest the wide range of Hindu attitudes to homosexuality today. The millennia-long debate in Hindu society, somewhat suppressed in the colonial period, has been revived.

Many supporters of same sex marriages argue that, by defining the institution of marriage as between one man and one woman, the state automatically tramples upon the constitutional rights to freedom of religion. They argue that just because a majority of religious organizations may believe that gay marriages should not be granted by the state does not make it the state’s obligation to observe their opinions on this matter.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution expressly forbids laws being made “respecting an establishment of religion” and that prohibit the free exercise of religion.   Thus, according to this argument, the state has no authority to define marriage as between one man and woman because there are various religions which hold that gay marriage is morally equivalent to heterosexual marriage.  Americans United for the Separation of Church and States have expressed concern that heterosexual-only marriage laws impose a specific religious doctrine as state policy. According to them, “a marriage amendment in the Constitution [raises] important church-state and religious liberty concerns.”

Many Christian groups have been vocal and politically active in opposing same-sex marriage laws in the United States. Same-sex marriage opponents sometimes claim that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples could undercut the conventional purpose of marriage. Roman Catholic advocates of monogamous heterosexual marriages contend that same-sex relationships cannot be considered marriages because marriage, by definition, necessarily involves the uniting of two members of the opposite sex.  Other religious arguments for an opposite-sex definition of marriage hold that same-sex relationships should not be recognized as marriages because same-gender sexual activity is contrary to God’s will, is immoral, and subverts God’s creative intent for human sexuality. Christian opposition to same-sex marriage also comes from the belief that same-sex marriage normalizes homosexual behavior and would encourage it, instead of encouraging resistance to same sex attraction.

The Roman Catholic Church argues from a theological perspective against recognizing same-sex unions. According to Catholic moral doctrine, acts of sexual intimacy are only proper between a man and a woman within wedlock. Secular government recognition of any other union within the definition of “marriage” would therefore reflect a belief in the moral equivalence of acts between a husband and wife and acts between two men or two women; this belief is contrary to Catholic doctrinal teaching.

 Catholic opponents also argue that inclusion of same-sex unions within the definition of marriage would also evidence rejection of the idea that, in general, it is best that children be raised by their biological mother and father, and that it is the community’s interest in ensuring the well-being of children is the sole basis for the government’s licensee and involvement in marriage.   Blessed Pope John Paul II, then head of the Roman Catholic Church, criticized same-sex marriage when it was introduced in the Netherlands in 2001. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, maintained opposition to the institution, considering it amongst “the most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good today”.     Within the Christian tradition, religious objections to same-sex marriages are often based upon Bible teachings.   Some religious arguments against same-sex marriage are based upon passages from the Old Testament, while there are others based upon passages from the New Testament.   There are conservative Christians that note the book of Leviticus contains a prohibition against male-male sexuality. Most Biblical scholars interpret Genesis 19:5 as indicating that homosexual behavior led to the destruction of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Orthodox Church in America is also opposed to same-sex marriage, as is the Unification Church.   The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that children are entitled to be raised by a mother and a father who honor their marital vows with complete fidelity.   They believe marriage is not primarily a contract between individuals to ratify their affections and provide for mutual obligations, but is an important part of rearing children. They teach that same-sex marriage undermines the purpose of marriage.

Judaism, like Christianity, reflects differing views between conservative and liberal adherents. Orthodox Judaism maintains the traditional Jewish bans on both sexual acts and marriage amongst members of the same sex. The Orthodox Union in the United States supported a federal Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.

Thai Theravada Buddhists, the more conservative wing of Buddhism are less supportive of gay rights and marriages. Human rights issues have received poor attention in Theravada countries, as the culture is rooted in the belief in the Law of Karma, which is more popular among Thai Buddhists than philosophical and advanced scriptural studies in Buddhism. Many monasteries and monks advocate their lay followers to see the world through the lens of karma, i.e., every person is born to pay back their sins. According to their explanations, all homosexuals and sexual deviants were once offenders of the Third Precept (prohibiting sexual misconduct) – at least in their past lives, and they must pay off their past sins in their present life. Therefore, they deserve all that society gives to them. This belief system creates strong conservative values in Theravada Buddhist culture. For these reasons, it is unlikely that Buddhists will easily approve a law to allow gay marriage. Gay and lesbian activists in Thailand will probably not be as successful as their fellows in European countries or Canada. It is important to note, however, that Theravada Buddhists outside of the South-East Asian Area are generally more supportive, or neutral, to same-sex marriage, and LGBT rights as a whole.

Kathy Kiefer

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