Most Christians once opposed the fight for equality for gays and lesbians. Today many Christians and other people of faith are at the forefront of the fight to end discrimination against the gay and lesbian community -- even working to support marriage equality.
In 1988, a group of conservative Christians in Oregon collected enough signatures to force a vote on whether or not the state's governor had made the correct decision when he signed an executive order banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in the executive branch of Oregon's government. Voters passed that initiative and it once again became permissible to fire people based on their sexual orientation. Most religious leaders either cheered the decision or remained silent.
Then, in 1992, the Oregon Citizens Alliance came forward with another initiative called Ballot Measure 9. This initiative would have amended the state constitution to declare 'homosexuals" "abnormal" and "perverse." It would have been the first time a class of people had their rights taken away in a state constitution since African-Africans where declared less than a full person. Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland joined a broad coalition that ultimately defeated the measure. Many considered the proposed language akin to language used against the Jews in the early 1930s in Germany. But a similar measure passed in Colorado.
Year after year, the religious right used Oregon as a battle ground in their campaign to deny gays and lesbians basic civil rights. In 2000, for example, they put forward a measure that would have required school counselors to tell gay and lesbian students that they were ill and in need of treatment. Progressive religious leaders waged a hard fought campaign against that ballot measure that was defeated in a close election. The proponents of the initiative lamented after their failure at the battle box in 2000 that the churches had out organized them.
2004 was the banner year for the religious right in Oregon and across the nation. That year Oregonians passed a state constitutional amendment banning marriage between same sex couples. Many churches took no stand on the issue. Roman Catholics and Mormons helped fund the campaign.
The following year, in 2005, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ became the first national mainline Christian denomination to endorse marriage equality. At the time, the UCC's General Synod said:
The message of the Gospel is the lens through which the whole of scripture is to be interpreted. Love and compassion, justice and peace are at the very core of the life and ministry of Jesus. It is a message that always bends toward inclusion. The biblical story recounts the ways in which inclusion and welcome to God's community is ever expanding -- from the story of Abraham and Sarah, to the inclusive ministry of Jesus, to the baptism of Cornelius, to the missionary journeys of Paul throughout the Greco- Roman world. The liberating work of the Spirit as witnessed in the activities of Jesus' ministry has been to address the situations and structures of exclusion, injustice and oppression that diminish God's people and keep them from realizing the full gift of human personhood in the context of human communion.
Others have now followed. The tide is turning. Just as many houses of worship at one point opposed interracial marriages but later changed their positions as they were moved by the Holy Spirit all across the nation people of faith are re-thinking marriage equality and coming out on the side of God's justice.
In 2014, Oregonians will consider another ballot measure. This measure would overturn 2004's constitutional amendment and make marriage equality the law of the land. The first 100 people to sign the initiative were clergy from diverse traditions. Communities of faith steeped deep in faith are now organizing events and petition drives in support of marriage equality.
Clearly, some people of faith will oppose marriage equality in this election. The truth is that good people of faith can come to different conclusions on difficult issues. Still, it is important to note that the Oregon Family Council, the main body opposing marriage equality in Oregon, which bills itself as a church-based, pastor-led organization is actually a 501 ( c ) 4 organization that comes complete with a political action committee. They give all their money to GOP candidates. The Oregon Family Council is a political organization not a faith body. National anti-gay organizations, like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, are also not church bodies.
To discriminate is sin. The Greatest Commandment is to love. Love absent justice is meaningless. It is time for people of faith to come out in support of marriage equality and put God's love into action so that all are free.
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