Last week was great news for my gay and lesbian friends as the Supreme Court decided that the Defense of Marriage Act, the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states, is unconstitutional by a 5-4 vote. That same day, the Supreme Court ruled that ProtectMarriage, the sponsors of California’s Proposition 8 that ban gay marriage in the state, lacked legal authority to appeal Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s 2010 decision overturning Proposition 8. When the decision was made, I had a great time reading on Facebook the exhilaration that many people felt over the ruling. What was especially gratifying was the joy that many Christians shared with their gay and lesbian friends and family members. Ever since the 2008 California elections, when the Catholic, Mormon and Evangelical Churches lobbied hard to pass Proposition 8, more and more Christians have been speaking out for LGBT rights and challenging their churches’ teachings on homosexuality.
During the 1990s, I attended an evangelical church. I met Evangelicals who either secretly supported gay rights or who had gay and lesbian friends or family members and were bothered at how their loved ones were treated by their fellow churchgoers. The problem was that they were intimidated against speaking out or challenging those Evangelicals who hated gays and lesbians. I’ve been heartened by some recent articles that describe changes taking place in the church. Robert P. Jones wrote an article for the June 27, 2013 Washington Post about the growing support of LGBT rights in all Christian denominations. He wrote:
If we rewind the clock back to 2006—two years after the nation witnessed 12 states banning same-sex marriage in a single election cycle—the debate seemed destined to remain one between secular Americas who supported same-sex marriage and religious Americans who did not. More than six-in-10 (63 percent) religiously unaffiliated Americans supported same-sex marriage, but not a single major religious group approached majority support. Among religious Americans, support ranged from a high of 41 percent among white mainline Protestants, to a low of only 12 percent among white evangelical Protestants (Pew Research Center, 2006).
But the debate can no longer be described as one between nonreligious and religious Americans. Support for same-sex marriage has risen by double digits in every major religious group since 2006. Today, solid majorities of Catholics (57 percent)—including equal proportions of white Catholics (58 percent) and Hispanic Catholics (59 percent)—and white mainline Protestants (55 percent) have joined the religiously unaffiliated (76 percent) in supporting same-sex marriage (PRRI, March 2013). The National Cathedral, which is affiliated with the mainline Episcopal Church, rang its bells at noon on Wednesday in support of the DOMA ruling and opened its doors for a special service for LGBT families and their allies “to celebrate the extension of federal marriage equality to all the same-sex couples modeling God’s love in lifelong covenants.”
Rachel Zoll wrote an article for the June 30, 2013 Associated Press on Gay Evangelicals challenging their church on LGBT issues, and the support of young Evangelicals for LGBT rights. Zoll wrote:
A February survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found seven in 10 white evangelicals overall were against gay marriage. However, younger respondents backed same-sex marriage by 51 percent. Younger Christians grew up with openly gay friends and relatives, and often found their elder’s fight for traditional marriage damaging to the church, according to studies by the Barna Group’s David Kinnamon, among other surveys.
Still, it is only in the last few years that gay and lesbian evangelicals have discussed their same-sex attraction so openly. It has been far more common for gays and lesbians from traditional faith groups to join liberal houses of worship or leave organized religion altogether. In a recent survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans by the Pew Research Center, 48 percent said they had no religious affiliation, compared with 20 percent of the general public. Of the LGBT adults with religious ties, one-third said there is a conflict between their religious beliefs and their sexual orientation.
Evangelical leaders are taking notice. After the U.S. Supreme Court last week gave federal recognition to gay marriages, several evangelicals responded not only by renewing their commitment to traditional marriage, but also by urging like-minded Christians to be more sensitive in the way they express their beliefs. For those outside conservative Christianity, this may not seem significant, but it’s a notable change for Christians who believe their faith requires them to challenge same-sex relationships.
Carol Morello wrote an article for the June 4, 2013 Washington Post that shows a wide acceptance of gays and lesbians in many Catholic dominated countries. Morello wrote:
The Pew Research Center survey conducted in 39 countries found stark geographical differences when people were asked whether homosexuals should be accepted in society.
The broadest acceptance was found in countries where religion is not central to life, such as Canada (80 percent), France (77 percent) and Australia (79 percent). Yet the poll also found high levels of tolerance toward gay people in some heavily Catholic countries, including Spain (86 percent), Italy (74 percent), Argentina (74 percent) and the Philippines (73 percent). In the United States, 60 percent of the public said gay people should be accepted in society.
Dan Merica wrote for CNN about the softening of Mormon attitudes towards gays and lesbians that started when Kevin Kloosterman, a former Mormon bishop, apologized to a group of gay Mormons in 2012. He wrote:
Kloosterman’s apology was just one example of what many Mormons and church watchers see as a recent shift in the Mormon community’s posture toward gays and lesbians, including by the official church itself.
Though the church’s doctrine condemning homosexuality has not changed, and the church remains opposed to same-sex marriage, many say the church is subtly but unmistakably growing friendlier toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, including voicing support for some gay rights.
Students at the church-owned Brigham Young University recently posted an “It Gets Better” video about the gay and lesbian community there, while a gay Mormon in San Francisco was selected last year for a church leadership position.
A new conference series on gay and lesbian Mormons – the same one Kloosterman addressed last year – is seeing an uptick in popularity.
Church spokesman Michael Purdy would not comment on whether church members are changing their stance toward gay and lesbian issues but said in an e-mail message: “In the Church, we strive to follow Jesus Christ who showed immense love and compassion towards all of God’s children.”
Purdy wrote, “If members are becoming more loving and Christ-like toward others then this can only be a positive development.”
The presence of Christians who support LGBT rights can be find found in the Supreme Court case involving Edie Windsor. Jamie Manson noted in his March 28, 2013 article for the National Catholic Reporter:
DignityUSA is an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics that was formally expelled by the Roman Catholic church in 1986 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Among the NYC chapter’s many members is Brendan Fay, an Irish-born activist and filmmaker who lives in Queens with his husband, Tom Moulton.
For years, Fay was known in the gay community for co-developing (with fellow activist Jesus Lebron) the Civil Marriage Trail, a project that helped gay and lesbian couples travel to Canada to get legally married. Canada had no residency requirement for marriage, and in 2008, New York state made the recognition of valid, out-of-state same-sex marriages mandatory. It was this project that first led Windsor to Fay.
…Fay was part of a small contingent of friends that shepherded Edie and Thea, who was confined to a motorized wheelchair, to a Toronto hotel, where they were married May 22, 2007.
“There was hardly a dry eye as they exchanged words, ‘With this ring I thee wed … in sickness and in health, till death do us part,'” Fay remembers.
More Christians are taking part in the various Pride Parades to show their support of marriage equality and LGBT rights. New Ways Ministry, a Catholic LGBT rights group, wrote in their blog about St. Andrew Parish marching in Portland’s Pride parade and St. Matthew’s marching in the Pride Parade in Baltimore, Maryland. Here are some youtube videos of other Christians participating in Pride Parades.
Here is the group Mormons for Marriage Equality marching for Portland’s Pride Parade in 2012
Here is the group Catholics for Marriage Equality at the Portland Pride Parade in 2012
Here is the Episcopal Diocese of California Oasis Ministry at San Francisco’s 2012 Pride Parade
Here is the Catholic LGBT rights group Dignity at Washington D.C.’s 2012 Pride Parade
The Marin Foundation saying “I’m Sorry” to the LGBT community at Chicago’s Pride Parade for 2010
Affirmations, a Mormon LGBT rights group, at New York’s Pride Parade 2012
Here are some Christian LGBT rights groups and their facebook pages:
Marriage equality advocates react to the Supreme Court ruling
Edith Windsor’s remarks to the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act