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Ross Murray

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The Relationship Between Faith and Marriage Equality

Posted: 02/ 6/2012 12:01 pm

More than a handful of states are currently debating whether to extend the legal protections marriage brings to gay and lesbian couples and their families. We are watching with anticipation as states like Washington and Maryland inch closer to treating all families with fairness and equity. Governors of both of these states have talked about their Catholic faith and their strong relationships with their faith as they pledge their support for marriage equality. Something is happening, right now, that is calling them to support fairness and equality at this time.

We are in the middle of a watershed moment for LGBT equality. The time is right for individuals, cities and whole states to start recognizing and respecting the care and commitment of loving gay and lesbian couples. Over the past few years, as we've seen more states legalize marriage equality, we've also seen public opinion inching upwards. According to several recent polls, a majority of Americans of all creeds and affiliations now support full marriage equality.

And through all of these conversations about LGBT equality and marriage, religion is playing a prominent role. When the movement toward marriage equality started, people of faith were portrayed by the media as being entirely and unilaterally opposed. But as the conversation has continued, and as more and more people have cited their faith as a reason they support their LGBT friends, neighbors and family members, that perspective is starting to change.

Personally, I applaud the media's attention to the faith perspective on LGBT equality. As a committed Christian and a gay man, I'm excited to see two important aspects of my identity garnering recognition in the media. Growing up in my small church, I realized that I had an undying love for God and the worshipping community gathered to give glory. I also knew that my being gay was going to be difficult for others in our church. After reconciling my faith and my sexual orientation for myself, I've worked for years on LGBT inclusion and equality in religious communities. Now, doing the religious work for GLAAD, it is gratifying to see the same faithful conversations about faith, equality and inclusion out in the wider world.

And I know I'm not alone. There are thousands upon thousands of people of faith who are also lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), and who are committed to their faith and its relationship with their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is exactly why the way we talk about religion and the LGBT population is so important. It should reflect the caring conversation that is happening in places of worship across the country.

The validation from faith already exists and is growing. Religious communities and people of faith are increasingly welcoming and supportive of LGBT people. According to a recent research note by the Public Religion Research Institute, majorities within most religious groups favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. These religious group with a majority of LGBT supporters include Jews, religious people who identify as neither Christian nor Jewish, Catholics (both white and Hispanic) and mainline Protestants. Even in religious groups that do not have a majority of LGBT support, affirming people are increasing numbers and working toward LGBT equality both inside and outside their denominations.

Although the coverage has improved, we still need the media to better reflect that reality. Instead of sometimes focusing exclusively on religious opposition to LGBT equality, 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.

Last week, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain's testimony against marriage equality in the Washington State Senate garnered much attention. However, at the same hearing, Bishop Chris Boerger, of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, also testified in favor of marriage equality. Two bishops, who are, in fact, ecumenical peers, demonstrated the reality of difference in the religious perspective on marriage equality.

An accurate representation of the true range of religious perspectives on marriage equality is not difficult to achieve. A wonderful example of this nuanced approach comes from The Herald in Everett, Wash., which ran a story entitled, "Who will accept gay marriage and who won't." The article shows a variety of perspectives on marriage equality, both personally and as a matter of denominational policy. A range of clergy and religious business owners give a range of thoughtful opinions and reactions to the possibility of marriage equality and what it means for them. This sort of reporting is exactly what all coverage of faith and LGBT equality should look like: nuanced, thoughtful and beyond a black and white dichotomy.

What will help people to recognize this new reality of faithful support for LGBT equality? The media lifting up some of the many examples of faithful people who love and accept their LGBT friends and family will help immensely. Additionally, it takes people like you and me, those LGBT and allied people of faith, speaking out about our faith and our support for LGBT people. The more examples the media has of faithful voices speaking out, the more they will reflect this reality. Even if your religious group does not formally support LGBT equality, you can speak up. In fact, your voice might be more important than ever.

This watershed moment is calling people of faith who believe in equality to step up and speak out. Now is the moment that our stories matter most. It is good for LGBT people, it's good for society and it's good for your faith.

 

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