Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and MinistryMain NewsQueering Faith

Rev. Dr. Justin Tanis Reflects on Marriage Equality and Religious Liberty

Rev. Dr. Justin TanisRev. Dr. Justin Tanis, Managing Director at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, answered a series of questions offered by the Rainbow Times, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. The questions and answers focus on the intersection of marriage equality and religious liberty.

The answers are presented in a four-part series by Paul P. Jesep in the Rainbow Times. The third segment was released earlier this week, and the final segment will be published in January.

Check out the Faith section of the Rainbow Times to learn more!

From The Rainbow Times:


Part I

Q. What is religious liberty?

A. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides in Article 18, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” The First Amendment guarantees in the United States the right to express faith and believe as we want and that we are free from government preferring one faith over others or faith over non-belief.

Religious liberty means people have the right to faith. This means they should be free to think and believe according to their own consciences, and the right to worship according to that belief. It means someone’s religious liberty cannot be used to curtail or prevent the religious liberty of another. Wide diversity of beliefs in our world enhances our understanding of the Divine.

Q. Does the Supreme Court’s decision on Marriage Equality threaten religious liberty?  

A. No. The Supreme Court decision means individuals and communities who believe same gender couples are equal to opposite sex couples in the eyes of God are now free to treat all equally. Those who do not agree are completely at liberty to continue in their beliefs and, within their communities of faith and private lives, free to continue to discriminate against those who form loving partnerships with people of the same sex.

Nothing about this decision impacts a person’s individual beliefs. It does nothing to impede people’s right to gather for worship, to preach what they believe, or to order their personal lives. It means all people are treated equally under the law when it comes to marriage.

Q. Why shouldn’t a person of deep faith with a business who believes in “traditional” marriage refuse to be hired at a same-gender wedding?  

A. Persons are free to believe whatever they want about marriage and use that belief to make decisions when forming their own relationships and when interacting with members of their families and faith communities. If they believe marriage between two people of the same gender is wrong, then they have every right to not enter into that type of relationship and should never be forced or coerced into doing so. But their beliefs do not grant them the right to deny goods and services in the public sphere to those who believe differently.

Regarding same gender couples, some businesses and employees are selectively using their faith as an excuse to discriminate against a single group of people, while ignoring other significant aspects of their faith. The Bible is very clear about the responsibility of hospitality (significantly clearer than it is about marriage or homosexuality) regardless of what one believes about the other person. Consider this list of passages: www.openbible.info/topics/hospitality.

It is ludicrous to empower businesses with a moral litmus test before providing services—these businesses are not refusing to serve those getting re-married, for example, though Jesus is clearly against divorce. We don’t want businesses judging our personal lives; we to move freely in public and have all people access the same goods and services.


 

Part II

Q. How can religious liberty of persons believing in “traditional” marriage be balanced with proponents of equality?

A. Marriage traditions around the world—and within the Christian church—vary widely. The church only began regularly blessing marriage in the 12th century and has included blessings of same sex couples throughout its history. The “tradition” of marriage as it is now being proclaimed is a fairly recent idea in human history and very Western in orientation. “Traditional” marriage isn’t all that traditional.

The Supreme Court ruling means all couples are now free to accept the rights and responsibilities of marriage, nothing more and nothing less. This has no direct impact on the marriages of those who believe otherwise. People who believe marriage means one man married to one woman in a monogamous marriage for life are free to continue to live that way. But that choice should not prevent others from making different choices they feel are ethically and spiritually right for them.

Q. What is biblical and social marriage?

A. Marriages in the Bible represent a complex set of interactions, mostly the sale of women by their fathers to other men for the purposes of procreation. Many Biblical marriages include more than two partners, such as the marriages of David, Saul, and Jacob to multiple women. Many included slave marriage, in which a slave owner, such as the patriarch Abraham, had sex with Hagar, a woman that he owned. The woman’s consent was not considered relevant.

The Bible recognizes a variety of partnerships, including same-sex ones, such as the intimate relationship between Jonathan and David and the profound bond between mother- and daughter-in-law Ruth and Naomi. One book of the Bible, the Song of Songs (the Song of Solomon), is an explicit love poem between a man and a woman who are unmarried lovers.

We don’t even know if Jesus was married—the Bible contains no information about this whatsoever.

Legally, marriage has become a contract of rights and responsibilities government grants. It is a social declaration of a personal commitment to a relationship and it is deeply meaningful to many people. Same-gender couples are motivated by the same things that opposite gender couples are. The continuing discrimination people in same-gender relationships face may make it even more vital to have those relationships recognized by the law – one’s partner is informed and participates in decisions if his/her partner is incapacitated.

In my ministry over twenty-five years, I’ve officiated at a large number of weddings, most without marriage licenses. Before same-sex marriages were recognized by law, couples still chose to get married. Why? Because it was important and sacred to them to make a commitment to one another in the eyes of God and before loved ones. There was something incredibly special about those services because they were purely about love and a spiritual connection. Legal rights and responsibilities conveyed by a license are different than the spiritual value of the ceremony and the commitment it symbolizes.

Q. Has marriage been re-defined by the U.S. Supreme Court?

A. No. Marriage has meant many different things to many cultures and times, including the right of two people of the same gender to make a commitment. This ruling simply makes space for people of diverse views to make choices for their own lives.


 

Part III

Q. Several seminaries offer courses in gay theology or gay studies. Please explain.

A. Gay or LGBTQ theology, began in the 1960s or earlier. It is related to liberation theology which emphasize God’s connection with those on the margins. LGBTQ theology reflects the lived experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people and can include the history of the community, especially as it relates to religious institutions, and an understanding of God’s movement within the community. Queer theology, related to queer studies in the wider academic world, is a methodology that “queers” theology; [it] examines, takes apart, and creates new meanings for different concepts. A queer reading of the Bible turns commonplace meanings on their head, looking instead to the text for its affirmation of sexuality, its playfulness, and its emphasis on the liberation of marginalized people. Reading overlooked and finding new inspiration.

Q. Religion has persecuted the LGBTQ community.  Why should it trust or embrace religion?

Religious institutions have been a powerful force opposing LGBTQ equality around the world. The only significant opposition to non-discrimination bills, measures to combat hate-motivated violence, and other efforts to improve community well-being comes from religious groups. However, religious leaders have always been part of LGBTQ liberation, beginning in the earliest days in the 1950s and 1960s. (See Religious Archive Network: http://goo.gl/G6vf7d).

The community shouldn’t trust religion—I don’t think it is wise to give blanket trust to an institution that has harmed and shamed LGBTQ people. But neither should people dismiss all religious people because some have been oppressive. Christianity, and every other religion, contains different viewpoints and theologies, especially on sexuality.

One interesting narrative I’ve heard frequently is when LGBTQ people talk about their rejection or ambiguity from the church [and] an absolute certainty that God is with them. And there is no reason why God should confine God’s self to human prejudices. LGBTQ people may hunger for a connection with the Divine, feel a strong sense of vocation, experience holiness in their lives—and all may take place within a community of faith. If faith is important to an LGBTQ person, they should be free to find a place to live out faith.

Q. Why should LGBTQ persons of faith want clergy to solemnize their union or have their child brought into a religion?

A. For the same reasons other people do—faith can be a powerful sustaining force, which offers meaning and value. There are clergy and communities eager to show God’s abiding love for all  and welcome couples and their children into community. Religious freedom means all should have the right to form communities of faith, to worship and to participate as we see fit.

Q. Is there a war on religion because of secularism?

A. No. The thing driving people from churches is the profoundly prejudiced and negative response of church leaders. Young people are tired of hearing what the church hates and want to focus on love. Religious groups are creating the negative backlash and then blame people for not following their intolerant views. (See Pew Center research)

People of faith are following their consciences out of churches and other religious groups to follow the basics—treating others as we wish to be treated, loving our neighbors, and offering hospitality. God is with us wherever we are.