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Faith and Morality Play Major Roles in Debate on Gay Marriage

Aspects of religion and morality have been used as the basis for arguments by both sides of the debate on same-sex marriage. Ray Suarez talks with Michael Schuenemeyer, minister for the United Church of Christ, and Richard Langer, a minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America, to learn how they’ve approached the topic.

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    Same-sex marriage was the issue before the Supreme Court this week. And for many supporters and opponents, their religious views were a guiding factor.

    The crowds outside the U.S. Supreme Court this week vocally and visually shared their views on same-sex marriage. And many made clear that their opinions are rooted in religious beliefs.

    RUTH CHAMORRO, Opponent of Same-Sex Marriage: We love all, just as God loves everyone, but God just doesn't like the sins that we do. And one of the sins are — happens to be homosexuality.

    PATTY JOHNSON, Supporter of Same-Sex Marriage: Well, I think our faith brings us to this issue. It's a moral issue all — all are God's children and are not to be discriminated against.


    That kind of division was also evident among religious leaders who turned out.

    REV. SAMARIS GROSS, Opponent of Same-Sex Marriage: We know that God created one man and one woman to be the holy marriage, holy matrimony. And we oppose most certainly, not the people, but the ways, because the Bible tells us differently. God definitely opposes it.

    BISHOP GENE ROBINSON, Supporter of Same-Sex Marriage: It's really important for progressive religious people to be here to counter the notion that religious people are against marriage equality. There are lots of different ways of reading Scripture.


    Even during the legal arguments inside the court, moral overtones were never far away. At one point, Attorney Paul Clement, representing House Republicans, was asked about the beliefs behind their support of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

  • Justice Elena Kagan:

  • ASSOCIATE JUSTICE ELENA KAGAN, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court:

    Is what happened in 1996 — and I'm going to quote from the House report here — is that Congress decided to reflect and honor of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality. Is that what happened in 1996?

    PAUL CLEMENT, Attorney for U.S. House of Representatives: Does the House report say that? Of course, the House report says that. And if that's enough to invalidate the statute, then you should invalidate the statute.


    Along those same lines, Chief Justice John Roberts questioned Roberta Kaplan, the lawyer for a woman who challenged DOMA, about the Senate's vote.


    Eighty-four senators based their vote on moral disapproval of gay people?

  • ROBERTA KAPLAN, Attorney:

    No, I think I think what is true, Mr. Chief Justice, is that times can blind, and that back in 1996, people did not have the understanding that they have today that there is no distinction, there is no constitutionally permissible distinction.


    Well, does that mean — times can blind. Does that mean they didn't base their votes on moral disapproval?


    No, some clearly did.


    Now both sides must wait to parse the high court's decisions on DOMA and California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage. The decisions are due by June.

    And we get two perspectives now on how leaders of different faiths are approaching the issue of same-sex marriage.

    Michael Schuenemeyer is minister for LGBT concerns with the United Church of Christ, the first Protestant church to endorse gay marriage. And Richard Langer is professor of biblical studies at Biola University. He's also an ordained minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America.

    Rev. Schuenemeyer, during the run-up to these two very important court cases, religious groups were not shy about where they stood. Did your denomination, the United Church of Christ, take a public decision on the Supreme Court cases?

    REV. MICHAEL SCHUENEMEYER, United Church of Christ: Well, yes, we did.

    We were involved in at least three of the briefs, amicus briefs, that were submitted to the court supporting marriage equality in both the Perry and Hollingsworth case and the Windsor case as well. We feel very strongly that everybody's relationship ought to be respected, that people ought to have equal rights, and that governments should really get out of this argument and allow everyone to have the freedom to marry.


    Professor Langer, did your nomination, the Evangelical Free Church, and your school, Biola, which says it's committed to biblically centered education, take a public stand on these cases? And, of course, being in California, you're directly implicated by the Prop 8 debate.

  • RICHARD LANGER, Biola University:

    Yes, it's been a very controversial issue here in California, as it has across the country.

    My particular domination, as far as I know, at least, didn't take an official stand because we don't really have much of an official organization that carries forward those stands. But it definitely represents a denomination that predominantly would have been opposed to same-sex marriage, as Biola would be as well.


    The Congress brought up morality repeatedly during the arguments, as we noted in the tape report.

    And, Professor, in the legislation itself, Congress decided to reflect and honor, the legislation said, collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality. That was 1996.

    In 2013, do you think the United States Congress would write the same thing?


    Yes, I would doubt the United States Congress would write the same thing in 2013.

    I think we really have had a lot of change in those kinds of broad public perceptions. That's different than the question of what a person might say coming from an underlying biblical world view or coming from the Christian faith. But I think there's been a lot of motion in our culture over the course of these last 17 years or so.


    So, during the time that there's been a lot of motion, has the church basically — or your branch of the church — stayed in the same place?


    Yes, I think so.

    I would argue that really the Christian faith has always been somewhat out of tune with the cultural ethics of the time. If you go back to New Testament time, you have a Greco-Roman culture that certainly didn't embody Christian values in terms of human sexuality. And Christianity was countercultural.

    And the Old Testament religion was countercultural to the Canaanite context it was in. So it really isn't that big a deal for us to feel like we're a little bit out of step with where our culture happens to be at some given time.


    Rev. Schuenemeyer, sort of the same question. Did the United Church of Christ look at the shifts in the culture and come to a different conclusion than Professor Langer?


    Well, I think so.

    Martin Luther King Jr. said that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. And my Old Testament professor Walt Brigaman says and the moral arc of the Gospel bends towards inclusion. And that's certainly been something that's been foundational about the theology of the United Church of Christ, where we believe that God is still speaking and that we continue to evolve as a society and come to understand how is it that we can live out the Gospel.

    And we find that when we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we don't find very many people, if anybody at all — actually, we say Jesus never turned anyone away. And those are very important values when we come to look at an issue like this.

    When we come to look at a relationship as important as marriage is, it's not just a piece of paper. It's about a relationship. And it's really not about the gender. It's about the quality of that relationship, about the love and respect, the communication, the kind of relationship that two people share.

    And society has come to understand marriage in a way that society can benefit from marriage. There are many tangible benefits that society gets from marriage. And the kind of social benefits that government offers to people who are married are very important. And they're important to the community, not just to the couple.


    Well, one-third of the states, home to more than one-third of the U.S. population, have either gone to legalize gay marriage or recognize civil unions or legally recognize domestic partnerships.

    What has changed for religious organizations in those places that have already changed their laws?

    Professor Langer, anything?


    You know, right now, I live a state that hasn't — that that is very much in flux and very much in question.

    I don't know that a huge amount of things have changed. The thing that's interesting to me is the notion that Michael just mentioned about marriage not having anything to do with gender. And I really think that's a revolutionary sort of statement. That's very, very different than what marriage has meant for millennia, frankly.

    It has been a thing that has been very much associated with gender, and particularly with heterosexual sex and reproduction. There's a whole set of things that really don't attach much to religion, but rather just ordinary human life and human nature that have made marriage something that you very much regulate and is very much associated with gender issues and very much associated with the next generation, with children.


    Quick response, Rev. Schuenemeyer?


    Well, I think that the aspect of gender really becomes neutral when we look at the vows of marriage themselves, because we're really talking about in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, and all the kinds of various conditions of life.

    And when two people are willing to make a loving commitment to each other for a lifelong relationship, those are really what the values of marriage are about, that love and commitment and that stick-to-itiveness that people have in a relationship.

    And we have found and our experience is — in fact, my own personal experience is that people who are gay and lesbian are able to receive the vocation of marriage, to live out those vows faithfully and in ways that are life-giving to themselves and to their family and to their community.


    Before we go, I want to hear from you both briefly on the very steady objections during this debate from religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage that didn't want to face coercion in states that change their marriage laws, didn't want to do anything apart from what their consciences told them in this matter once the law changed.

    In your awareness, in your view, has this been a problem anywhere among the states that have either contemplated the change or moved to the change, Professor?


    I'm not aware of that having happened yet, but I think that's definitely a concern that I share, is, where will this go in the long run?

    This has become a civil rights issue, in terms of the way people like to frame it. It's not a question of definition of marriage, but a question of denying someone a civil right. And I think that's made it very problematic, because if you end up on the wrong end of a civil right, you can end up in prison, you can end up losing a tax-exempt status, you can end up with all kinds of very, very strong consequences.

    So it's one of those areas that you worry this isn't just a matter of, hey, let people do what they want to do, because as soon as that happens, suddenly, you can't do what you would like to do or you are required to do things that you never would have done by conscience.

    We have seen this happen with doctors in abortion issues, where it's one thing to say abortion is permissible, but it's not long until OB-GYNs are required to do abortions and be trained in abortions, or else they have to find a different specialty.


    Rev. Schuenemeyer, do the states that have already changed their laws provide a test case, where we can see where coercion of actions against religious belief are a problem?


    Well, one of the important values of our country is religious liberty.

    And I think that marriage equality allows everybody to practice their faith and to continue to do so. So I don't really see where coercion is going to be an issue. When two people marry each other, there's the role of the state, which is to provide the rights and benefits and also the obligations. It's a publicly accountable relationship at that point.

    And then each religion has the responsibility to offer rights and blessings, sacraments, whatever it is that they do in their traditions, according to their teachings and doctrines. And our values in our country respect that religious liberty.


    Thank you both, Rev. Schuenemeyer and Professor Langer.


    Thank you.


    Thank you.


    Politics editor Christina Bellantoni headed a Google Hangout with faith leaders from different sides of the debate. Watch their conversation on our home page.

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