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Why Religious Reassurances Matter

Timothy Kincaid

May 21st, 2009

The US Constitution’s Freedom of Religion Clause protects churches from having to conduct sacraments that are contrary to their beliefs. So no minister need fear that he or his church will be forced against his will to conduct a marriage ceremony between a same-sex couple.

But the peculiar practice in this country of having ministers vested with power by the State to make civil pronouncements of marriage have led to confusion. Most people, ministers included, know that Catholics don’t have to officiate at the marriage of non-Catholics, or Rabbis for non-Jews, but the battles over gay rights in recent years have caused a great many people to fear that denying gay couples religious recognition might fall under the category of illegal discrimination.

The 2008 Clergy Voices Survey (pdf) provides illustration of the importance of reassuring the population that religious freedoms will be protected.

The Clergy Voices Survey measures the views of “Mainline” Christian denominations, those six Christian churches that embrace a more liberal theology and whose parishoners make up about 18% of the population.

When asked about civil recognition for same-sex couples, Mainline clergy replied as follows:

  • 33% said gay couples should be allowed to marry
  • 32% said gay couples should be allowed civil unions
  • 35% said gay couples should not have state recognition

But then the survey noted something interesting

Among clergy who initially did not support allowing gay couples to marry, support increased significantly when they were provided with an assurance that no church or congregation would be required to perform same-sex marriage services. With this religious liberty assurance, support among clergy jumped from one-third support to nearly half (46%), a movement of 13 points. Nearly all of this movement occurred among clergy who initially supported civil unions.

One would assume that clergy are aware that their religious rights are protected, moreso than anyone. But 13% of Mainline clergy who would otherwise support marriage equality needed assurance that this would not impose on churches or ministers.

If all it takes to get a 13% shift in the position of Mainline ministers – who wield great community influence due to their position – is reassurance of a respect for the rights they already have protected by the Constitution, then by all means let’s reassure them.



May 21st, 2009 | LINK

It is interesting that so many know so little about their own rights, especially for a group that are educated and literate enough to be ministers.

I don’t have a problem with laws that clearly state that churches don’t have to perform any marriage that the church opposes, but the very long exemption language offered by Gov Lynch of Maine gave me pause. Leading gay legal groups should get together on come up with language that does the job of exempting churches from having to perform marriages without opening new cans of worms by possibly legalizing other forms of anti- gay discrimation.

May 21st, 2009 | LINK

If Christians deny civil rights to others because they perceive they won’t be allowed to discriminate against the others, then the Christians have already lost. What they teach and practice is not what Jesus taught or practiced.

Emily K
May 21st, 2009 | LINK

I’m not a huge fan of enabling ignorance among the ignorant. But if this is what is needed, fine. It’s like people who double-click on hyperlinks – one click is really all you need but they feel like nothing will launch unless the second click is added.

David Brian Holt
May 21st, 2009 | LINK

You’re being very kind to think that mainline clergy have much influence in the country anymore. They are seen as “apostates” by many evangelicals. It was encouraging to read, however, that over 60% of UCC clergy are in favor of full marriage rights. That number was probably much lower a few years ago but has been moved higher due to noble action by their national denomination.

Timothy Kincaid
May 21st, 2009 | LINK


I think perhaps they weild more influence than you are alling. Mainline parishoners make up 24% of American voters.

And the word of a minister can give a sense of “permission” to a non-religious American who still considers themself to be generically “Christian”.

As long as “non-active Christains” are not hearing a uniform anti-gay message, then they can more easily do what is right without subconciously feeling they are going against God.

May 21st, 2009 | LINK

Religion will end the world…just wait.

Priya Lynn
May 21st, 2009 | LINK

John said “Leading gay legal groups should get together on come up with language that does the job of exempting churches from having to perform marriages without opening new cans of worms by possibly legalizing other forms of anti- gay discrimation.”.

I agree John. I certainly don’t trust those laymen gays who assure us the overly broad language allowing for religious discrimination only gives churches the rights that they already had under the U.S. constitution to refuse to perform marriages they don’t agree with.

Jason D
May 21st, 2009 | LINK

Jeff, every end is a beginning.

el polacko
May 21st, 2009 | LINK

the idea that civil rights legislation should contain an asterisked allowance for discrimination by some groups is disgustingly wrong. why this exemption for “religion” when many religions have no issue with equal marriage rights ?
we are talking about registering relationships with the STATE, just as heteros have to do.. what happens in other ceremonies has nothing to do with it.

May 22nd, 2009 | LINK

I support re-assuring clergy that they will not lose their rights in order to grant us ours. Put it in legislation if need be.

May 25th, 2009 | LINK

I think these religious reassurances are more to prevent potential scenarios such as if a gay couple presented themselves to their Catholic priest for marriage, even though the Church does not permit same-gender sexual expression. If said gay couple were to try to make a legal issue of it, this would force the state to try to legislate in matters of doctrine and faith, which is most definitely NOT the purpose of the government or courts, at least in the USA. I’m all for full civil marriage equality, but for a gay marriage to be recognized by a faith group, that’s for the faith group to determine, not the state. If I found a man I wanted to marry, I’d love for a full Nuptial Mass, but I’d have to settle for a civil ceremony. For change to occur in my church, it would have to occur within my church’s processes.

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