05/14/2012 03:40 pm ET Updated Jul 14, 2012

The Long Journey to Marriage Equality and Religious Freedom

President Barack Obama made public last week his support for marriage equality in an interview with ABC News. As it was expected, many leaders of different religious communities made their disapproval public. These are the voices of religious leaders that we often hear from; but there are other religious voices, the ones that the media leaves out every time that marriage equality is debated. That is the voice of those of us, religious leaders of every faith tradition, who strongly support the freedom of every couple to get married.

As a Latino, Baptist pastor I am extremely proud of the stance that President Obama has taken. I agree with other religious leaders in affirming that marriage is one of the most important aspects in the life of individuals. It is this conviction that leads me to believe that every couple, regardless of gender, should have access to both the civil and the religious institution of marriage. In fact, I believe that marriage equality is a matter of religious freedom.

Often we hear from religious leaders about an imaginary "threat" to religious freedom should the state allow same sex couples to access marriage equality. However, the opposite is true; religious freedom is being denied to thousand of religious communities across the nation whose theologies call for the recognition of gay and lesbian couples. My church's religious freedom has been denied for too long. On a recent statement approved by a unanimous vote of the congregation, we shared that University Baptist Church in Seattle "has traveled a prayerful, studied path to become a congregation that sees God's love in human love, regardless of the sexual orientation of those who embody that love."

Many people will disagree with President Obama on marriage equality, and they have all the right to do so. However, our nation has to understand that denying marriage rights to same sex couples is not uplifting religious freedom. Religious freedom is secured when every religious group's understanding of marriage is acknowledged and respected.

In fact, this happens every day in our nation. As a minister, I have the right to refuse marrying any couple that I believe is not ready to enter into marriage. This is not only my right, but also my responsibility. Similarly, there are denominations that refuse to marry couples where the bride or the groom is divorced. This is called "religious freedom." No church, no synagogue, no mosque or temple is forced to host the marriage of any couple. Nevertheless, congregations like mine are denied the right to offer the same rights to same sex couples when they seek to be united in holy matrimony.

Certainly, with Obama's public statement the fight for marriage equality and religious freedom is not over. This is just one more step in the long journey toward justice and equality. As the president will hear many voices masquerading themselves as the "true voice of faith" in this debate, I want to make sure that he and the gay and lesbian community have this clear: this Latino, Baptist minister and his congregation stand with you.