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Standing for Marriage Equality in the Bible Belt

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The time has come for same-sex marriage to be accepted throughout the United States as a civil right of individuals, part of the same freedom to pursue happiness that exists for people interested in opposite-sex marriage. President Barack Obama is probably the best-known American to announce that his attitude on the issue has evolved, but 75 prominent Republicans, including four former governors and two members of Congress, also recently argued in favor of same-sex marriage in a legal brief submitted to the nation's highest court.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing the matter in a pair of cases that could change everything. As that court debate drew near, former president Bill Clinton spoke out in favor of marriage equality as well. It's a period of fast evolution in attitudes, pushed by the current crop of young people who truly are not going to put up with society making a "good vs. evil" judgment about individuals' sexuality anymore.

Pushing back aggressively against the extension of marriage rights is a strain of conservative Christianity deeply rooted in the lives of people I've rubbed shoulders with all my life. I grew up in Texas as a Southern Baptist preacher's kid. I spent 15 years in the music business, promoting positive and inspirational songs to Christian radio stations across the country, and I live in Nashville, Tenn. In many ways I am very much at home in the Bible belt.

"But do you really want to be known for promoting gay marriage?" a friend asked me when I spoke my mind on the subject. I suppose I'd like to be known for being honest and for supporting freedom and equality for everyone.

In the Christian music scene there is so much preaching and so much aggression against homosexuality, as if Christianity were some kind of exclusive club. It can really do a number on a young person's search for truth within the faith. There was a time in my life, right after I left my parents' home, when I turned away from God because I felt that there was too much hate and condemnation in religion.

After getting away and by myself over the years, I figured out that God was about love, peace and acceptance. I still have my Christian faith, but I think that God is more concerned with how we treat people. He wants us to treat people right. Jesus loves and accepts everyone; he has a place at his table for everyone. And someone else's marriage really doesn't have anything to do with your relationship with God.

Yesterday, March 26, the Supreme Court took up a legal challenge to California's ban on gay marriage, a ban that was voted into the state's constitution as Proposition 8 in 2008. The court is considering whether the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, which requires states to guarantee equal protection of the laws to all, applies to marriage laws and, therefore, requires states to allow same-sex couples to marry. That's the case, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, in which the 75 Republicans bucked their current party leadership and argued in a friend-of-the-court brief that same-sex marriage promotes family values and maximizes freedom for individuals.

In a related case, the Clinton-era federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal recognition and spousal benefits to spouses in same-sex marriages, was taken up by the Supreme Court justices today. The Obama administration has said that the law is unconstitutional, and the Justice Department will not defend it in court. Clinton has said that he signed DOMA into law to avoid legislation that would have been worse for gay people, and he believes now that it should be overturned.

At the same time, however, new laws are being introduced in some states to try to legitimize other forms of discrimination against LGBT people. Conservative Christian radio is likely to try to fan the flames of anti-gay sentiment in this time of shifting attitudes, especially with major court decisions looming. I would ask people to consider that such hostility isn't really about religion.

I look at marriage as a civil right. If someone else feels that their marriage has a religious foundation, or that it forms a religious foundation for their life, then that's great for them. But you can't exclude a group of people because they don't fit the same belief system or views as you.

I know many gay couples who do believe in God and who want their marriage to be a religious experience too. Many traditional Christians say that you can't be gay and have a relationship with God at the same time. I hope that more people can get to where I am and know that God is love. God loves everyone.

Whether a person is gay or not, whether a person is religious or not, in a nation of freedom and equality, the same freedoms should apply to everyone, including the freedom to marry.