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Rev. Susan Russell Headshot

Bishops Behaving Badly

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The Nov. 10 Baltimore Sun headline read "Maryland Bishops: Same-sex Marriage Erodes Religious Freedom." There's a theological term for that: it's "bunk."

And there's also a Commandment for that: it's number 9 of 10, which reads, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."

I realize I have the benefit of a seminary education, but even for a first-time reader it should be patently clear that the Ninth Commandment does not read, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor unless thy neighbor is gay or lesbian, in which case all bets are off." The Maryland bishops know that. And if they don't, here's a little remedial reading:

Same-sex marriage will have exactly the same impact on religious freedom that no-fault divorce did. And that would be none. And that would be because the First Amendment to the Constitution makes it ever so clear that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

What that means is exactly what it says. No law in these United States of America can prohibit the free exercise of religion. Period. And that includes Roman Catholic priests choosing not to marry same-sex couples -- just like they already choose not to marry divorced ones. Or Orthodox Rabbis who choose not to marry interfaith ones. Or other clergy who choose not to marry couples who don't go to their church, practice their faith or color inside their theological lines. Bottom line: clergy cannot be compelled by the state to preside at any marriage. Never have been. Never will be. To say otherwise just isn't true.

Which brings me back to the Ninth Commandment. "Bearing false witness" (a.k.a. "lying") is not a traditional Biblical value. I've checked.

And yet over and over again, we hear faith leaders -- like the Maryland bishops -- perpetuating the fiction that extending the equal protection of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples is somehow a threat to religious liberty. Somebody needs to call them on it. And we are who we've been waiting for.

The First Amendment protects the right of the Maryland bishops to believe whatever they want to about the sacrament of marriage. It does not protect their right to write those beliefs into our constitutions and deprive same-sex couples of the same protections civil marriage provides for opposite-sex couples.

The brilliance of the First Amendment is that it guarantees not only freedom of religion but freedom from religion. As a Christian I believe that when Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," he didn't just forget the caveat that said "unless your neighbor is gay or lesbian." He meant love all your neighbors. And you don't love your neighbor by discriminating against them. And as an American I believe that "liberty and justice for all" really means all -- not just some.

And while I'll defend to my last breath the right of the Maryland bishops to believe whatever they think they know about what God does or doesn't bless, I will also challenge with my last breath, blog, tweet, email, letter-to-the-editor, sermon, speech and soundbite their right to inflict their theology on the rest of us. And I invite you to go and do likewise.