Note: This post was recently published at Huffington Post. You can read and comment there as well.
Organized religion and controversy seem to go hand in hand. Like milk and cookies, peanut butter and jelly, gin and tonic, Bert and Ernie. And today’s controversy du jour: marriage equality.
The hate-filled and hurtful comments of religious radicals and zealots are splashed across the Internet. In just the last week alone, certain religious leaders have passed judgment on the faith of pro-marriage equality congregants and made dire predictions about the impact of marriage equality on society (basically that if civil laws are changed to allow for same-sex marriage, “society will be the worse for it.”) Tensions are high and the issue cuts deep, tapping into the core of a person’s values, priorities, and faith.
I am a person of faith and a person with faith, but given all the hatred and judgment and disrespect voiced in the name of religion, it is getting harder and harder to have faith in religion. On some level, I have to confess, the constant barrage of insensitive criticism by religious leaders leaves me feeling ashamed – ashamed of organized religion and ashamed to be a person of faith.
There seems to be an “anti-LGBT spiritual bullying” going on, as John Becker, an LGBT rights activist, wrote in this post. Many opponents of marriage equality resort to degrading words that are not just hurtful to homosexuals, but also disrespectful to marriage in general and patently inaccurate. Moreover, these polarizing sentiments don’t even seem to represent the views of a religious leader’s own congregants. For example, recent data shows that the vast majority of Catholics (71 percent) support the civil marriage rights for same-sex couples.
A couple can certainly choose to marry in the presence of God or with the blessing of a religious figure, but it is not necessary to effectuate the union. Fundamentally, marriage is a simple legal agreement between two consenting adults. Nonetheless, the marriage that most of us strive for – regardless of sexual orientation – is about so much more than signing one’s name at the bottom of a marriage license and submitting the documents to the state.
Marriage is about attraction, romance and, yes, it is about sex. But marriage is about more than what goes on in a couple’s bedroom. A healthy and soul-sustaining marriage is also about commitment, partnership, teamwork, and compromise. Marriage is foot rubs, quiet dinners, and shared jokes. Marriage is friendship, family, and faithfulness. And, frankly, I fail to see how a society that promotes relationships based on love, commitment, and loyalty could ever be the worse for it.
When the reproachful words of outspoken religious leaders are allowed to reverberate through society and the media, the assumption that all religions and persons of faith are against marriage equality is exacerbated and the “us versus them” mentality is intensified. As Ross Murray, the Director of Religion, Faith & Values at GLAAD, pointed out in this post, “we need more stories that reflect the truth that people are being called to love and support their LGBT friends and family. Life is much more complex than the ‘gays versus religion’ stereotype that has been so often portrayed in the media.”
It is time that the countless persons of faith who, like me, favor marriage equality start voicing our support just as loudly – no, louder – than those who condemn same-sex marriage. If this lopsided portrayal of marriage equality as a “religious versus secular” issue continues, we risk hindering marriage equality progress, thereby denying deserving couples of their basic human right to fully engage in a loving and committed relationship. And society is and will be the worse for it.
Religion does not need to divide; we can use it to unite. Faith and marriage equality are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I know several Unitarian Universalists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, and Jews, all of whom embrace their faith and whole-heartedly support marriage equality. As I have written before, religion is about community. Religion is about intentional behaviors and practices that allow grace, compassion, love, and faithfulness to flourish. It is about accountability to oneself and one’s community, not just to God. It is about respect and faithfulness to one’s neighbors, not just allegiance to God’s will.
As persons of faith, we need to end the quiet and subdued acquiescence, and intentionally and fearlessly proclaim our support. Call your legislators, pastors, and religious leaders to advocate for marriage equality. Wear a white knot. Support marriage equality efforts like Marriage Equality USA and Courage Campaign. Join and participate in faith-based organizations that are committed to promoting marriage equality, such as Faith for Marriage, Standing on the Side of Love, Catholics for Marriage Equality, and the efforts of many individual congregations throughout the country.
It is time to stand by our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends and coworkers, and say loudly and proudly: “I am a person of faith and I support you. I support your life. I support marriage equality.”
Won’t you join me?