By Michael Nam
In a recent vote to amend the definition of marriage in its Book of Order, the church changed language to read, “Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.” The phrase “between two people, traditionally a man and a woman” had previously read “between a man and a woman.”
Support for same-gender marriage has clearly grown in the U.S., but is often believed to be an issue that religious Americans tend to oppose. The numbers, however, show just how unjustified that view really is.
According to information from the Public Religion Research Institute:
57% of Catholics support same-gender marriage
62% of white mainline Protestants support same-gender marriage
27% of white evangelical Protestants support same-gender marriage
83% of Jewish Americans support same-gender marriage
“We see a clear trend as more religious denominations formally recognize and perform same-sex marriages in the U.S.,” Joyce Dubensky, CEO of Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Studies, told DiversityInc.
Muriel Burrows, Pastor of the Witherspoon Presbyterian Church in Princeton, N.J., said she herself stood with the changes to the language. “We are a progressive congregation and a social-justice congregation,” she said. A majority of the New Brunswick Presbytery, to which Witherspoon belongs, voted forthe amendment.”
Burrows acknowledged that there are certainly some who disagree with the amendment and expressed sorrow these congregations are leaving or may be leaving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “We would be sad to see them go,” she said. “It would really break our hearts.”
She explained that the disagreement was just over a matter of wording as there would be no compulsion for those churches that do not agree with same-gender marriage to perform the ceremony. “It’s a decision of tolerance and inclusion,” she said.
It’s important to note that the official stances of organized churches and temples often contradict that of their congregation. Though the Catholic Church clearly states its opposition to same-gender marriagealong with a number of Christian denominations, according to Pew Research Centerthe majority of its adherents in the U.S. support it.
“This is a reminder that diversity exists within each religion and even across individual congregations. That’s important because just knowing someone’s religious affiliation doesn’t tell you what they believe about same-sex marriage. Within a church that performs such marriages, you will no doubt find individuals who agree and others who do not. Equally important, this trend is a reminder that many lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer people are also religious,” said Dubensky.
The idea that opposing same-gender marriage is a matter of religious freedom, like in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act bill currently going through the Georgia legislature, is undercut by the sheer diverse range of religious thought on the subject.