Arguing Equality Chapter 8: Gay Marriage & Religion

This is a nine-part installment designed to help everyone understand marriage equality.  For some, it will be an education, for others, it will be helpful when discussing the subject.  I have included links to each chapter at the end, as well as information about the author.



 For many, this is the be all and end all of the debate. Countless books have been written on the subject, and scholars on both sides have wrestled with the subject. Ready? Here we go…


The argument is simple, and doesn’t require a whole lot of explaining. It is the single most frequently cited rationale for opposing the legalization of gay marriage.35 For many if not most Americans, marriage is thought to be a religious institution inextricably linked with the Judeo-Christian moral ethic. Since the grand majority of Jewish and Christian sects oppose gay marriage, many contend that it should remain illegal period.

The very definition of democracy.

A) America is a Secular State

The problem with utilizing personal religious beliefs to oppose state sanctification of gay marriage is that legally speaking, religious and civil marriages are completely separate institutions. Though many faiths currently perform same-sex marriage “ceremonies,” these ceremonies have no legal recognition as civil marriages. A heterosexual couple similarly can have a religious marriage ceremony, but unless they file papers with the state that ceremony has no legal significance. Conversely, a couple does not need the blessing of a religious institution to marry – atheists and others who choose not to have a religious ceremony need only fill out a marriage license at City Hall to legally wed.

Just as the state does not dictate which ceremonies a religion can perform or recognize, religious sects should not be able to dictate who receives a civil marriage license. Even if most Americans have a profound religious objection to same-sex marriage, denying even one gay couple the right to wed on religious grounds is a gross violation of our country’s commitment to the separation of church and state.

Not convinced by argument A? How about the opposite end of the spectrum?

B) Freedom of Religion

On the other hand, if one fails to note a disjunction between the religious institution of marriage and its secular counterpart, arguing the alternative — that the religious and secular components of marriage are inherently and inextricably linked — proves equally effective on religious freedom grounds.

At present, the Unitarian/Universalist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism all recognize same-sex marriage as an intricate part of their religion. If the religious and secular components of marriage are truly linked, then a strong case could be made that the government’s failure to sanction gay marriage is a violation of our constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion. Moreover, the government, by not legalizing gay marriage, is valuing some religious ceremonies over others (for instance, a marriage ceremony performed by the Methodist Church rather than the United Church of Christ), an example of government favoritism clearly forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Below is a little history lesson. Christianity, historically, has valued neither procreation nor marriage all that much for most of its existence.

C) Marriage and Christianity

Finally, those who claim that marriage is a vital, fundamental and immutable facet of the Christian religion should be greeted with a healthy dose of historical skepticism. Despite its import in recent times, Christianity has been most notable for its insistence on the preferability of lifestyles other than family units – priestly celibacy, voluntary virginity (even for the married), and monastic community life. While it may seem like the biological family has always been the central unit of Christian life, this is simply not the case. As John Boswell noted above, Christianity was, for the most part, ambivalent about marriage for much of its history.

But even if in recent times marriage has come to play a vital role in the Christian religion, the idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies of the church’s position certainly work to undermine its credibility. Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopal Church, for instance, notes that the church regularly blesses fox hunts, homes, and even warships: “The church has no problem blessing a vehicle whose sole function is to reign nothing but death and destruction, yet refuses to bless the union of two people who are in love.”

As an institution, Christianity remained overwhelmingly ambivalent about most forms of heterosexual marriage during the first millennium of its existence. This is hardly surprising for a religion whose founder was supposed to have had no biological father, whose parents were not married at the time of His conception, who was believed to have had no siblings, who Himself never married, and whose followers — in direct opposition to those of Judaism and most pagan religions — considered celibacy the most virtuous lifestyle. – John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe


LEVITICUS 18:22 “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”

When addressing homosexuality and religion, biblical arguments inevitably come into play. As Peter J. Gomes explains: “Nearly every such person who acknowledges an aversion to homosexuality does so on the basis of what he or she believes the Bible to say, and in their minds there is no doubt whatsoever about what the Bible says, and what the Bible means.” Of course, nothing could be further from the truth; what the Bible actually says and means about homosexuality is wildly disputed in both academic and religious circles. For a good read on the subject, I highly recommend my good friend Daniel Helminiak’s “What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, and John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.”

via Gay Marriage & Religion.


Seth Persily is a member of the Georgia Bar and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Mr. Persily served as Publisher of the Harvard Law Record and co-President of the Lambda Law Association. Mr. Persily obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, where he served as President of the Duke Gay, Bisexual & Lesbian Association. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in Religion and a minor in Gay & Lesbian Studies.

Mr. Persily worked at the Atlanta law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan before opening his own practice, Persily & Associates, which concentrates on employment discrimination and real estate law. He serves on the Board of Directors for Georgia Equality as well as YouthPride.

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