French Protestants can bless same-sex marriages

Timothy Kincaid

May 17th, 2015

French ProtestantsDespite massive street protests by devout conservative Catholics, in May 2013 France legalized same-sex marriage.

As the battle for marriage equality in the US has progressed, it appears to me that increasingly the most significant opponent to equality has become the Catholic Church. Certainly other faith groups are in opposition and conservative politicians remain aggressive and hostile, but from an organizational perspective or visible force, groups like the Southern Baptist Church or the Assemblies of God have stepped away from the limelight on this issue, preferring to espouse their views in the pulpit rather than the newspaper.

With Catholic bishops headlining anti-equality rallies and with dioceses publicly firing teachers, it seems to me that an evolution of perception may be occurring.

At the beginning of the battle, it was often perceived that this was a matter of people of faith verses homosexuals and their secular advocates. However, after several mainline churches stepped up their advocacy, that picture changed.

The next image – driven largely by the Bush Campaign of 2004 – was that this was a fight between Republicans and Democrats. And, to an extent, this still remains true. But within the Republican Party there has been a great softening on the issue.

And as the battle has become an international struggle, US politics cannot define the combatants. Not even the right v. left accurately depicts the lines, with Conservatives in the UK and elsewhere siding with equality.

More and more the vocal opposition has narrowed until it appears that the single global voice consistently falling on the side of exclusion and rejection is the Catholic Church or, more accurately, the Catholic hierarchy and their conservative Catholic supporters (lay Catholics in the US and in “Catholic countries” are often largely supportive of equality).

I think that it is clear that there is a strong movement towards increasing acceptance of gay people – and their family units – within the community of faith both in the US and globally. But too often this is loudly and publicly rejected by Catholic leaders who see it as contrary to teachings of the Church.

For example, this week a Catholic PFLAG mom had organized a multi-denominational conference about welcoming gay people into the body of faith. But at the last minute, the Bishop of Charlotte, SC, refused to allow the meeting within Catholic space.

Myers Park Baptist church stepped in offering a last minute change of venue.

“We are a part of a network of other Baptist churches who have covenanted together to welcome and affirm all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. When the news broke about the bishop, members of our LGBT community reached out. If there’s any church in Charlotte that should be hosting this, it’s us,” said Chrissy Williamson with Myers Park Baptist Church.

The take-away is that irrespective of local parish support, the Catholic Church’s power structure remains hostile and rejecting.

But I wonder whether the Catholic Church’s increasingly leading role has not allowed for more acceptance in non-Catholic circles. As opposition to gay marriage becomes more and more a “Catholic thing”, perhaps this will free some Protestants to be more supportive than they might otherwise be.

As noted above, massive street protests in France were largely identified as Catholic. Joining them were prominent US Catholic anti-equality voices such as Brian Brown from the National Organization for Marriage. The struggle there was largely Conservative Catholics v. Everyone Else.

I wonder whether this, in some measure, played into the decision today of France’s main Protestant church to allow blessing of same-sex unions. (

The United Protestant Church of France, which counts around 250,000 members across the country, adopted the reform during a national synod held in the Mediterranean city of Sète meant to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Ninety-four representatives of the protestant group voted in favour of the measure, with only three voting against it, a church spokesman told the press on Sunday.

It may well be that by ratcheting up the argument that one must vote against equality because “this is our doctrine”, the Catholic Church may have caused others to recognize “but it may not be mine”.

I don’t think by any means that this means that the Southern Baptists or other conservative denominations in the US are going to change policy on gay unions any time soon.

But I do know that for many Protestants, “what the Catholics do” is reason enough to bring into question ideological or theological positions. And hardcore positions on contraception and divorce have been weakened rather than strengthened in Protestant circles by being so closely tied to Catholic dogma. Perhaps the obstinance of some like Bishop Cordileone may prove to be in our favor.


May 18th, 2015

Timothy, I think this is an interesting perspective with some merit, though you seem to recognize that it isn’t the whole picture. Indeed, at least from my experience in US churches, it isn’t just Catholics that Protestant groups are interested in being distinct from, but also other Protestant groups. There is a certain amount of pride in being part of the “faithful remnant,” and a tendency towards apocalyptic mindsets that makes it easy for denominations to fight to be the one that best rejects The World and stays Truest to doctrine, even when it should become clear they are not living or acting like Jesus.

What I find most interesting on the Catholic side of marriage equality debate is that the lay leaders of the movement seem to be predominantly converted Catholics. If I am not mistaken, Gallagher, Brown, and Regnerus were all raised protestants, but converted to Catholicism. It is almost as if they have to go out of their way to demonstrate their devotion to RCC teachings, and thus equal to, or superior to, those raised Catholic. I wonder how true this is of the RCC leadership?

Timothy Kincaid

May 18th, 2015


You make a good point. I don’t have recollection either way as to whether Gallagher, Brown, or Regnerus are converted Catholics but if so it might help understand their devotion to doctrine.


May 18th, 2015

I did happen upon Brown’s Wikipedia page and it noted that he had converted from Quakerism.

Timothy Kincaid

May 18th, 2015

Wow, that’s quite a shift.

The Friends (Quakers) are mostly gay supportive and about as unstructured of an organization as you can get, with limited leadership and an adherence to simplicity and plainness. He jumped right into a church with frilly robes, pomp and tradition, hierarchical rigidity, lots of showmanship and a policy of exclusion.


May 20th, 2015

I’ve read that Regnerus is a convert, and I seem to recall that Gallagher is as well. It seems emblematic of converts in general that they are the most vehement in professing and supporting the orthodoxy.

It’s also a characteristic of authoritarian systems that the hierarchy has no need to pay much attention to the laity: the bishops don’t really have to worry about what the majority of Catholics, in that instance, see as desirable or true to the Faith: they, after all, are the ones who are dictating doctrine. (But as I understand it, part of Catholic teaching is following one’s own conscience, which gives the laity a nice excuse to say “FU” to the bishops.)

As for the basic premise of the post, I doubt that the public perception is that fine-grained: most people don’t really pay very close attention to the whos and wherefores of the gay civil rights struggle; I suspect that to most people, the “villains” are not just the Catholic Church, but “Christians” in general, or to those slightly more aware, the evangelical movement — which, by the way, is also global in scope. While those like Gallagher, Brown, George, et al., are fairly high profile, I doubt that most people know that they’re Catholics. And the real loudmouths are Perkins, Dobson, Graham, Lively, etc.

Paul Douglas

May 21st, 2015

Newt Gingrich and Sam Brownback are converts. Randall Terry is a convert and who could forget Andy Comiskey? Apparently the Gallagher was born catholick but dropped out before returning with a zeal when her life fell apart. I completely agree that converts tend to be the worst of the worst when it comes to obnoxiousness.
The roman church really is the great promoter of patriarchy IMHO. And there is a lot of big conservative, catholick cash out there to fund them.


May 21st, 2015

Hunter, given that Baptist (and maybe some other protestant denominations) put great emphasis on the “priesthood of the believer,” I doubt there is very strong Catholic teaching for “following one’s own conscience.” That said, Protestant denominations do tend to mock the many ways the Catholic hierarchy has developed (historically) to help sinners get to heaven while keeping the Church’s pockets well padded, so it is likely irrelevant to the hierarchy how faithful the ‘faithful’ truly are. If they are truly devout, then that’s a cultural win. If not, then they can serve as a economic win. Either way, the RCC keeps its power and influence. (I feel I should add that I know I am generalizing, and drawing conclusions off of history that may not be currently true, so I am open to correction if there is better information out there)

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