The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt two major setbacks to gay-marriage opponents and has given a further boost to those who support legal recognition of same-sex unions. The verdicts are drawing quick responses from religious voices on both sides and they have reignited the debate over morality and same-sex marriage.
In the June 26 rulings, a divided court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and said those who challenged a ruling overturning California’s gay marriage ban, known as Prop 8, had no standing to appeal. That effectively opened the door to allowing gay marriage in California, though it would have no immediate effect in states that have not legalized same-sex marriage.
At this point, same-sex marriage seems increasingly ascendant in the court of public opinion, with polls showing a rapid rise in acceptance and particularly strong support among younger generations. Indeed, in recent months, as the Supreme Court justices have been deliberating, three more states have legalized gay marriage.
The public is even more accepting of gays and lesbians beyond the issue of civil rights. In May, NBA player Jason Collins became the first male athlete in a major professional sport to come out as gay and he was widely embraced for his openness. Similarly, the Boy Scouts of America in May changed their long-standing policy to allow boys who are gay to be Scouts, though the organization stopped short of allowing gay Scout leaders. In another development, Lutherans in California in May elected the first openly gay bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The Supreme Court cases will provide a rallying point for both sides in the debate, and this edition of ReligionLink provides resources for reporters covering the court cases and their implications for both the civil and religious realms of society.
Update: Oct. 7, 2014
On Oct. 6, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from five states regarding laws that legalized same-sex marriage, increasing the number of states that allow gay marriage from 19 to 30:
- Read an Oct. 7, 2014, New York Times story about the court’s decision not to take up same-sex marriage appeals.
- View a series of USA Today maps that shows the states that currently allow same-sex marriage, those that ban it and ones with pending appeals.
Meanwhile, the United Methodist Church, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, continues to wrestle with issues of same-sex marriage and gay clergy:
- Read an Oct. 6, 2014, Religion News Service story about 36 UMC pastors who faced church discipline for presiding at a single same-sex marriage.
- Read a May 13, 2014, Religion News Service story about the impasse in the church over same-sex marriage.
On Oct. 2, 2014, GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign released a resource guide for journalists covering LGBT issues during the midterm elections to help them “stop conflating bigotry with religious faith.”
“Defining Marriage: Defense of Marriage Acts and Same-Sex Marriage Laws”
The National Conference of State Legislatures maintains a page on state laws defining marriage.
The Pew Charitable Trusts: Same-Sex Marriage
Stateline, the news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts, tracks developments involving same-sex marriage at the state level. A March 21, 2013, Stateline article includes a graphic (scroll down) showing which states allow same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships, and which ones do not.
“Timeline: Gay Marriage In Law, Pop Culture And The Courts”
NPR has posted a timeline of significant developments in the debate from 1972 through 2012.
The National Marriage Project
The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia conducts research and analysis on marriage issues. Brad Wilcox is director.
Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project: Gay Marriage and Homosexuality
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life tracks news developments and conducts polling on the subject.
“Same-Sex Marriage: A Selective Bibliography of the Legal Literature”
Rutgers’ law library posts a bibliography of legal literature on the topic.
The Williams Institute
The Williams Institute focuses on sexual-orientation law and public policy, and its website has a number of resources on same-sex marriage. Scholars from the think tank, which is based at California’s UCLA law school, participated in friend-of-the-court briefs in both March 2013 cases before they went the Supreme Court.
Wikipedia page on same-sex marriage
Wikipedia keeps its page on same-sex marriage updated with background, links, state-by-state information and charts. Wikipedia also has a page about Christian churches around the world that have approved same-sex marriages. As with any open-source website, information on Wikipedia should be confirmed before it’s used.
“Gay marriage around the world”
A June 26, 2013, CNN blog post looks at the status of same-sex marriage in other countries.
“Supreme Court Decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry”
Read the Supreme Court decision on Prop 8, Hollingsworth v. Perry.
“Supreme Court Decision in United States v. Windsor”
Read the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, United States v. Windsor.
“Reactions to gay marriage wins at Supreme Court”
A Religion News article on featuring the thoughts of several faiths on the DOMA ruling.
“Prop 8: Gay marriage could resume soon after Supreme Court ruling”
Read a Los Angeles Times story about what is expected to happen in California as a result of the Prop 8 ruling, and how opponents of same-sex marriage might seek to limit the decision’s impact.
“Gay Marriage Rulings: A Cheat Sheet”
The Wall Street Journal posted answers to common questions about the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage.
“DOMA downfall: A basis to legalize gay marriage in states?”
A CBS News story focuses on whether the DOMA decision will be used by gay-rights advocates as a legal basis for challenging same-sex marriage bans nationwide.
“Both Sides on Same-Sex Marriage Issue Focus on the Next State Battlegrounds”
The New York Times looks at which states are likely to be the next battlegrounds in the push to expand marriage rights in this June 27, 2013, article.
“Gay marriage rulings: ‘new ministry situations on horizon,’ seminary scholars project”
Read a June 28, 2013, Baptist Press story in which seminary leaders urge churches to consider and prepare for the variety of ministry challenges they say are likely as a result of the court ruling.
“Your Church and the Same-Sex Marriage Decisions”
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission prepared a suggested bulletin insert in response to the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage.
More news articles
“Ryan Anderson’s uphill fight to change young minds on gay marriage”
Read a June 20, 2013, Religion News Service story about Ryan Anderson, a leading voice among opponents of same-sex marriage. Anderson, 31, bucks the trend within his generation on this issue.
“Supreme Court gay-marriage rulings: Anything but simple”
Read a June 16, 2013, USA Today story previewing the range of possible Supreme Court rulings and the complexities that each could bring.
“What will the Supreme Court do on gay marriage?”
Read a June 10, 2013, story at Religion News Service speculating on the Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage, written before the decisions were released.
“Evangelical Lutheran Church elects first openly gay bishop”
Read a May 31, 2013, story in the Los Angeles Times about a openly gay bishop elected to a Lutheran church.
“Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?”
Read a May 23, 2013, analysis at Religion News Service on how the Catholic Church is struggling to welcome openly gay members who are not allowed to take up ministry roles.
“Caught in Methodism’s Split Over Same-Sex Marriage”
Read a May 5, 2013, New York Times story about a United Methodist Church minister — and retired dean of Yale Divinity School — who is facing a possible canonical trial after officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding.
“What’s Next in the Fight Over Same-Sex Marriage?”
Read a May 5, 2013, Stateline article that predicts “Momentum in the states to allow gay marriage may be about to stall.”
“For Evangelical Leader, Gay Marriage ‘Outside Of God’s Design'”
Read the transcript of a March 23, 2013, NPR interview in which Focus on the Family’s president, Jim Daly, discusses his concerns about religious liberty aspects of the debate.
“As Support For Gay Marriage Grows, An Opponent Looks Ahead”
Read a March 22, 2013, NPR story about another activist and how her background as a single mother led her to become involved in the issue.
“Gay marriage? These voices say ‘No’ and explain why”
Read a March 22, 2013, USA Today story in which key opponents of same-sex marriage discuss the reasons for their views.
“Rob Bell on Gay Marriage Support”
Read a March 22, 2013, story in The Christian Post about former megachurch pastor Rob Bell’s statements in support of gay marriage.
“Church and State: Religious Leaders Debate Same-Sex Marriage”
Watch a March 22, 2013, Google hangout hosted by PBS NewsHour that featured religious leaders on both sides of the debate.
“Pediatricians’ group: gay marriage fosters child health”
Read a March 21, 2013, Los Angeles Times story about the American Academy of Pediatrics urging support for same-sex marriage on behalf of the children of lesbians and gays.
“Santa Fe mayor urges allowing same-sex marriage in New Mexico”
Read a March 19, 2013, CNN post about the mayor of Santa Fe, N.M., urging the state’s county clerks to issue same-sex marriage licenses, even though no legislative or judicial action has paved the way for them to do so.
“Church: No weddings till UMC changes homosexuality stand”
Read a March 19, 2013, United Methodist Reporter article about a Methodist congregation in North Carolina that has decided not to allow any weddings — for straights or gays — in its church building until the denomination changes its stance against same-sex marriage.
“Refusing to Be Late on Gay Marriage”
Read a March 1, 2013, New York Times article about the vocal endorsement of same-sex marriage by much of corporate America.
“Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and Domestic Partnerships”
The New York Times posts news about same-sex marriage and related matters on a Times Topics page.
Polls and surveys
“Poll: Majority backs same-sex marriage”
A poll conducted for CNN in June 2013 found that 55 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage and 60 percent say the federal government ought to recognize those unions that are performed in states allowing them.
“A Survey of LGBT Americans”
The Pew Research Center released survey results in June 2013 indicating that LGBT adults are, on the whole, significantly less religious than the general public.
“Same-Sex Marriage, Gay Rights”
PollingReport.com posts recent polls on same-sex marriage. Newest ones are at the top.
“Growing Support for Gay Marriage: Changed Minds and Changing Demographics”
See a survey released March 20, 2013, by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press on Americans’ attitudes on same-sex marriage. The survey included questions on whether same-sex marriage violates religious beliefs.
“In U.S., Record-High Say Gay, Lesbian Relations Morally OK”
Gallup conducts a “values and beliefs” survey each May. Read about the 2013 results, which found a record 59 percent of Americans saying that gay and lesbian relations are morally acceptable. A Gallup/USA Today poll released in December 2012 found that religious beliefs were the reason most often cited as the basis for opposing same-sex marriage.
“Single polls concerning same-sex marriages (SSMs), civil unions, etc.”
ReligiousTolerance.org posts a collection of polls. The most recent are at the bottom of the site.
Where things stand
Nineteen states (plus the District of Columbia) allow same-sex marriages: Massachusetts, California, Hawaii, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Maryland, Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota. Massachusetts was first, permitting such unions beginning May 17, 2004. The state Legislature acted to allow the marriages after a November 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that declared the state’s marriage law discriminatory.
California briefly allowed same-sex marriages in 2008 but stopped doing so after voters approved the state constitutional amendment known as Proposition 8 later that year. A federal district judge in 2010 ruled that the amendment, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection provisions. An appeals court panel also deemed the measure unconstitutional, setting the stage for the Supreme Court’s consideration of the case.
“Recognition of Same-Sex Couples Worldwide, Recognition of Same-Sex Couples in the United States”
Lamba Legal lists countries and states that allow gay couples to marry or that recognize or provide protections for same-sex relationships through other means. Note that the publication was last updated in September 2011, so it doesn’t reflect recent changes.
Civil unions and domestic partnerships
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures:
- Civil unions, which typically provide the same state spousal rights and duties as traditional marriage, have been approved in Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Colorado. Colorado is the latest state to join this group. Its new law took effect May 1, 2013. (Civil unions will not be an option in Delaware and Rhode Island once those states’ new same-sex marriage laws take effect, in July and August 2013, respectively.)
- Domestic partnerships granting nearly all state spousal rights to unmarried couples are permitted in California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington.
- Domestic partnerships granting only some state spousal rights to unmarried couples can be entered into in Hawaii, Maine, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.
State constitutional amendments/ legislation
More than three dozen states have statutes and/or constitutional provisions that effectively ban same-sex marriage. Marriage alternatives – civil unions or domestic partnerships – are accepted in some of these states.
Here are resources for checking on action on amendments and legislation throughout the nation.
“Defining Marriage: Defense of Marriage Acts and Same-Sex Marriage Laws”
The National Conference of State Legislatures maintains a page on state laws defining marriage.
Federal and state courts regularly consider cases involving same-sex marriages or civil unions, even if those legal statuses aren’t conferred in their states. For example, in 2008, before New York allowed same-sex marriage, a five-judge appellate panel in that state said that two lesbians who had married in Canada were entitled to legal recognition of the relationship by the state of New York. One of the women was suing over denial of health-care benefits to the other.
Several websites track action in the courts:
“Ohio Federal Judge Enjoins State-DOMA: More Aftermath of Windsor”
The Constitutional Law Prof blog highlights legal cases involving same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act and other matters dealing with sexual orientation.
“Developments in Same-Sex Marriage Laws”
FindLaw.com offers a history of legal cases (scroll toward bottom of page) on same-sex marriage.
In 1996, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act permitting states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The law prevents the U.S. government from extending federal benefits to couples in same-sex marriages. (Read Wikipedia’s backgrounder.)
Bills aimed at repealing DOMA have been introduced by members of Congress in 2009 and 2011, and in February 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would no longer defend the portion of the act that blocks federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The U.S. House of Representatives, led by Speaker John Boehner, responded by authorizing its legal counsel to defend DOMA since the Justice Department would not.
Efforts were made in 2004 and 2006 to amend the federal Constitution, based in part on fears that a mere statute could be found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. An amendment would have to be approved by 67 senators and two-thirds of the House of Representatives, then be ratified in at least 38 states. So far, supporters have not been able to garner the needed congressional support. Read a history of these efforts at ReligiousTolerance.org and background with external links at Wikipedia.
Faith groups' policies
Below is a snapshot of where notable religious denominations stand on gay marriage.
For general information, see:
“Religious Groups’ Official Positions on Same-Sex Marriage”
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life provides provides a resources page listing religious groups’ official positions on same-sex marriage.
“Policies of 47 Christian faith groups towards homosexuality”
See a list of the policies of different Christian denominations on homosexuality at ReligiousTolerance.org, which also maintains a list called “Homosexuality and religion: Policies of non-Judeo-Christian religions.”
- Roman Catholic Church: In the document “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons,” issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Roman Catholic Church in 2003 reiterated its position that “No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman.” The nation’s bishops have backed calls for a U.S. constitutional amendment.
- Southern Baptist Convention: The nation’s largest Protestant denomination says in its “basic beliefs” that “Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”
- American Baptist Churches USA: In November 2005, the national body declared that “God’s design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman” and that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching.” The board of the American Baptist Churches Pacific Southwest region voted to separate from the parent body, however, over what was described as the larger group’s refusal to deal with lax policies of some congregations toward homosexuality. Read a May 18, 2006, Baptist Press article about the situation.
- United Church of Christ: The 25th biennial General Synod in July 2005 approved an “equal marriage rights for all” resolution, making it the first mainline Christian denomination to endorse gay marriage.
- United Methodist Church: The second-largest Protestant denomination in the country and the largest mainline Protestant denomination rejected a proposal in 2008 to become more inclusive of gays and lesbians. An attempt at the 2012 General Conference likewise was rejected. The church’s Book of Discipline says, “We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.”
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: In 2009, a churchwide assembly adopted a social statement on human sexuality that included a discussion of committed same-sex relationships but no consensus about them, saying, “We do not have agreement on whether this church should honor these relationships and uplift, shelter, and protect them or on precisely how it is appropriate to do so.” The assembly also adopted a resolution, though, stating “that the ELCA should commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable couples who wish to have lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”
- Episcopal Church: The denomination has been in turmoil since Gene Robinson was elected as its first openly gay bishop in 2003. Its constitution defines marriage as “a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong.” General Convention 2009 Resolution C056, however, says that bishops, “particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church.” In light of that, some bishops have given their priests permission to solemnize same-sex marriages. In 2012, the church provisionally approved a liturgy for blessing same-sex unions, but the rite is not called marriage.
- Church of God in Christ: In 2004 this African-American denomination issued a proclamation on marriage, saying “we declare our opposition to any deviation from traditional marriages of male and female.”
- Unitarian Universalist Association: It passed a resolution in 1996 supporting the legal right to same-sex marriage and urging UUA congregations to bless such marriages. The church has been active at the state and national levels in efforts to allow gay marriage.
- Metropolitan Community Church: The church, whose motto is “sexuality and spirituality rejoined,” welcomes gays, lesbians, transgendered people and bisexuals; encourages the blessing of same-sex marriages; and supports marriage-equality efforts.
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: It has declared that allowing same-sex marriage would “make light of the very serious and sacred foundation of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of families.”
- Reform Judaism: Reform Judaism, the largest of the three main branches of Judaism in America, was the first to allow same-sex commitment ceremonies. In 2000 the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the organized rabbinate of Reform Judaism, approved a resolution allowing rabbis to officiate at gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies.
- Conservative Judaism: In 2006, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism issued a ruling allowing rabbis and synagogues to ordain gay rabbis and perform or host same-sex commitment ceremonies. Rabbis and synagogues are also allowed to continue to not permit such ceremonies or ordain or hire gay rabbis. See a Dec. 7, 2006, Washington Post article about the vote and a July 3, 2007, Forward article about how synagogues were adapting to the new rule.
- Orthodox Judaism: Opposes same-sex marriage. The Rabbinical Council of America was one of several Orthodox groups reaffirming that stand in May 2011, saying “the Orthodox Jewish world speaks with one voice, loud and clear.” The Orthodox Union issued a statement in June 2011 about New York’s decision to legalize gay marriage, expressing disagreement with the action but appreciation that the law protects religious liberties.
- Islam prohibits same-sex marriage.
Advocacy groups and others involved in the debate
Favoring same-sex marriage
The American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 pediatricians committed to the optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.
It announced in March 2013 that it supports same-sex marriage to promote the well-being of children of lesbians and gays.
The American Bar Association
The American Bar Association is the one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world.
It passed a resolution in 2010 urging states to allow same-sex marriage.
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union litigates on behalf of civil liberties, including religious liberties. It is based in Washington, D.C., and has many chapters throughout the United States. Anthony D. Romero is its executive director.
The ACLU posts information and resources dealing with gay and lesbian relationships.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Americans United for Separation of Church and State describes itself as a “nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving church-state separation to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.”
It applauded the Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage.
Freedom to Marry
The New York City-based organization Freedom to Marry is working to obtain same-sex marriage rights nationwide and to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Evan Wolfson is president.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation seeks to advance public understanding and acceptance by sharing the stories of LGBT people. GLAAD has posted an online resource kit for reporters covering the Supreme Court cases. It includes a report on a three-year academic study that concluded the news media give disproportionate weight to anti-LGBT voices in stories about religious views of same-sex marriage.
Human Rights Campaign
The Human Rights Campaign is the country’s largest civil rights organization working for sexual equality. Its Religion & Faith Program supports programming efforts in many different groups and also offers its own resources and event support for religious LGBT advocacy.
The Interfaith Alliance is the national nonpartisan advocacy voice of the interfaith movement. Media inquiries can be submitted through a form on the alliance’s website.
It praised President Barack Obama when he announced his support for same-sex marriage in May 2012.
Lambda Legal works to achieve full recognition of rights, including marriage, for LGBT people.
Secular Coalition for America
The Secular Coalition for America was founded in 2005 as the “only organization in the nation whose primary purpose is lobbying Congress on behalf of atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans.” The SCA is endorsed and supported by numerous secularist groups.
It opposes theological definitions of marriage and wants the federal Defense of Marriage Act repealed.
The United for Marriage Coalition
The United for Marriage Coalition is an umbrella group advocating for marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Faith groups (and nontheist organizations) are among the group’s members.
Opposing same-sex marriage
Alliance Defense Fund
The Alliance Defense Fund opposes same-sex marriage and efforts to circumvent DOMA.
Alliance for Marriage
The Alliance for Marriage has pushed for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages nationwide.
American Center for Law and Justice
The American Center for Law and Justice supported the “Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act of 2005.” Contact Gene Kapp, media director.
It maintains a “traditional marriage” page on its website.
American Family Association
The American Family Association, based in Mississippi, promotes conservative Christian values, including traditional marriage. It fights against pornography. Media contact is Cindy Roberts.
Family Research Council
The Family Research Council is a Christian organization promoting the traditional family unit and the Judeo-
Christian value system upon which it is built.
It devotes a Web page to marriage and family issues. The page includes links to brochures, amicus briefs and other materials on same-sex marriage.
Focus on the Family
Focus on the Family is a conservative group that supports churches’ right to campaign. The founder of this organization is James C. Dobson who was also former chairman and president.
It considers traditional marriage the cornerstone of society and says the push for same-sex marriage is contributing to a marriage crisis in America.
The Heritage Foundation is a nonprofit think tank devoted to conservative public policies. Stuart Butler is director of the Center for Policy Innovation.
Its objectives include preserving traditional marriage. Read the foundation’s July 20, 2010, backgrounder about the role of religion and morality in the debate.
Institute for Marriage and Public Policy
The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, based in Manassas, Va., posts research briefs on marriage-related topics. The institute also hosts a Marriage Debate blog.
National Association of Evangelicals
The National Association of Evangelicals is an organization that includes 45,000 congregations from 40 member denominations, individual congregations from an additional 27 denominations, and 250 parachurch ministries and educational institutions. Its mission is to gather, strengthen and expand the evangelical community. Galen Carey is vice president for government relations.
It supported efforts to uphold the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
National Organization for Marriage
The National Organization for Marriage lists its mission as “to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it.”
Traditional Values Coalition
The Traditional Values Coalition in Washington, D.C., is a leading voice in Congress for Bible-based traditional values. The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon is chairman of the organization.