Religious Liberties
Gay Rights and Religious Liberties (Part 1)
Why a gay bishop supports conservative pastors' right to discriminate.

There are few issues that cause church leaders more concern than the implications of gay rights upon religious liberty. From courtrooms to family rooms, our society is debating these questions and the outcomes are having significant ramifications on how pastors teach, lead, and counsel. To help us better understand the debate, I have invited Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, to write a series of articles to identify where conservative and liberal Christians can find common ground on these matters, and where we still disagree. Robinson is now retired from ministry and working with the Center for American Progress, a progressive research and policy organization, on issues of faith and gay rights. -Skye Jethani

Religious liberty is a hot topic these days, cited in discussions and debates about access to the institution of marriage by gay and lesbian couples. Such an expansion of marriage to include gay couples is often seen by some religious conservatives as an infringement on the religious liberty of believers, concerns which are sometimes not taken seriously by religious liberals.

That being said, let's be clear that religious liberals also hold religious liberty as a treasured and historical value. It just may be that we mean different things by "religious liberty," and therefore may disagree about whether it is under attack. But first, some common ground.

Should marriage equality become the law of the land, one thing that religious conservatives and liberals can agree on is that religious institutions will still be able to refuse to authorize, bless or in any way support same-gender marriage. My own home state of New Hampshire was the first to include, in the body of our marriage equality legislation, a restatement of what has always been true under the First Amendment: no religious institution or clergy member will be required to marry same sex couples or to bless/sanction any such civil relationship. As a clergyman, I cannot be forced to marry any couple who comes to me asking to be married, whether gay or straight. I may refuse to marry a couple for any reason, or for no reason. I don't even have to give a reason. And I can't be sued for my refusal.

This right-of-refusal is an important ramification of the separation of church and state. It is an aspect of religious freedom for which I am willing to fight (if it actually were under attack) alongside my conservative brothers and sisters of the faith. Religious exemptions based on the First Amendment provide common ground for religious conservatives and liberals. We stand together in this.

January 17, 2013

Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments


January 02, 2014  10:29pm

Agreement with the gay lifestyle is the precursor to accepting gay marriage. The issue of gay marriage will continue to be used by the secular progressives to enforce their standard of morality and tolerance on the evangelical church. Jesus repeated God's original design of creation in Mt. 19:3-5 that effectively defines marriage as a one flesh exclusive relationship between a man and a woman. The institution of marriage predates any form of human government and it is ridiculous for any government to redefine what God already defined. I have had several discussions with people trying to explain/defend homosexuality from a biblical perspective and there is no place in scripture that advocates for anything other than what I have described. Some things in scripture are exclusive, and marriage is one of those things. This is not hate speech or a trivial issue that church leaders are allowed to moderate because our culture is going down this road. On the surface, Bishop Robinson sounds tolerant, reasonable, and compassionate with his pastors, but he is deceived and wrong in his position. He would have to apply the romantic passages in the Song of Solomon to the sexual activities to men with men and women with women while Romans 1:24-27 calls those things shameful acts. Bishop Robinson says that he would not support government interference with religious conscience and practices, but that is exactly what is happening with the use of church facilities in some cities. Even as Americans, our rights do not come from our government; they come from our Creator. I believe the church will someday be persecuted over this issue and lose non-profit status and face other punitive actions. Finally, the church needs to show compassion and love for those in this lifestyle without sliding into agreement. Jesus loved all kinds of people without agreeing with their sins.

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James Paul

December 17, 2013  10:27pm

The term "marriage equality" connotes a moral superiority in Mr. Robinson's position. Who would dare oppose "equality?" Opponents of same-sex marriage would argue that marriage–traditionally understood in both secular and religious contexts as the union of a man and and woman–is equally available to all persons. The argument is, in part, about whether the sex and gender of the persons being married matters, or if only the desire and commitment of those persons matter. If the goal here is to open dialog, I suggest avoiding terms that are so ideologically loaded.

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