Comparing religious responses to same-sex marriage

Following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, my Facebook feed blew up, as you can imagine. Among the hysteria, I found the different responses of religious institutions interesting, and I wanted to comment on a few of them. I’m going to largely pull from hierarchical/historical/organized Christian denominations.

Let’s look at Eastern Orthodoxy first. The first is from Bishop Paul (Glassios) of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA):

As your bishop — and from the perspective of the Church — nothing has changed.  Even though same-sex marriage is ‘legal,’ no blessings will be given to any priests to conduct same sex-marriages in our parishes.  Those who are in same-sex marriages conducted by their respective states, who are unrepentant, will not be communed.

While I find the idea of cutting off faithful adherents from sacraments because they’re in same-sex relationships abhorrent, I thought this was a very moderate statement — he reaffirms their church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage while admitting that the ruling doesn’t affect their religious freedom.

Archbishop Benjamin (Peterson), also of the OCA, had this to say:

This morning we received the news that the Supreme Court of the United States asserted the right for persons of the same sex to be married throughout the country. Their decision, however, in no way alters the teaching of the Orthodox Church on the subject of Christian marriage. And, while our doors are open to everyone who seeks the Kingdom of God, our understanding about human persons and the family remains unchanged. There is no blessing for such unions in the Orthodox Church.

[…] Christian marriage is challenged in many ways in our times. Same sex marriages represent only one such challenge. The common practice of cohabitation, even among those who consider themselves to be Orthodox Christians, is another, and perhaps even more serious, symptom of the denigration of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

This is very similar to Bishop Paul’s statement above, but with more emphasis on the gravity of straying from the Orthodox teaching on sexuality and relationships.

The next is a more comprehensive statement from the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR):

Living in a free society as we do, we should first be thankful that we have the opportunity to practice our Orthodox Faith without inordinate interference from the government. In recent history this was not the case in Russia, and is still not the case in many countries throughout the world. In a free society all views can be shared in the public arena – both views we agree with as Orthodox Christians and those we disagree with. We call upon our flock to be guided first and foremost by the Holy Tradition of the Church in discerning whether any contemporary question is something that is compatible to the Orthodox faith. If an Orthodox Christian chooses to engage in public political discourse this should be done with moderation and with a firm intention and watchfulness not to fall into extremism. Extremism is not conducive to softening hearts or bringing others to the faith. Laymen who choose to engage in political speech should not state that they speak on behalf of the Church. Strictly speaking such an authoritative statement can be made only by a bishop or with a bishop’s specific blessing.

It should also be made clear that living a homosexual or any other sinful lifestyle is not compatible with Christianity and this has always been the teaching of the Church. That being stated, it is also crucial to state that the Church is a Spiritual Hospital and all those wishing to receive the healing freely offered by God through their repentance and God’s Grace are fully welcome. This includes those who have participated in immoral or unnatural acts of any kind as well as those who are tempted by such sins. The Church is empathetic to those who suffer in such a way and offers them support, healing, and Christian love. Those actively engaging in any immoral or unnatural pursuits cannot live a full sacramental life within the Church. However, this does not mean that we seek to drive away or ostracize those who have transgressed in such a way. Rather, we must make all efforts to draw those in such an unfortunate situation back to chastity and the opportunity to again partake in the Life-Giving Mysteries of the Church and to engage the struggle for their salvation within the parish community.

I found this statement the most interesting out of the Orthodox statements because ROCOR is known in the Eastern Christian world for being quite conservative and divisive. While they were the most forceful in asserting traditional teachings on sexuality, they were also the most objective when it came to religious freedom, clearly stating religious freedom allows for other people to have rights that might conflict with your religious opinions. Very fascinating that ROCOR articulated religious liberty the best.

Moving on to the Mormons — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints released this one paragraph statement:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges that following today’s ruling by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States. The Court’s decision does not alter the Lord’s doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice.

Pretty succinct and politically well-played — acknowledge that the ruling happened, acknowledge your teachings, but stay out of any kind of pronouncements or prophecies on what will happen from here on out.

Up to this point, the statements have largely followed the same formula — acknowledge the ruling and re-assert their teachings. I think that both should go without saying — no one expects churches to accept something simply because it’s legal (lots of things are legal that various religious groups don’t accept as moral), and obviously just because the state recognizes same-sex marriage doesn’t mean that religions will have to as well. But, there’s been so much hysteria after the ruling, I see why they felt the need to say something.

Now, onto the absurd. Archbishop Joseph Edward Kurtz of Louisville penned this response on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) [emphases mine]:

Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.

The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.

[…] I encourage Catholics to move forward with faith, hope, and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, rooted in the immutable nature of the human person and confirmed by divine revelation; hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and manifest service to the common good; and love for all our neighbors, even those who hate us or would punish us for our faith and moral convictions.

I can’t even. Where to start? Let me jump to the last part I emphasized for a moment — the persecution complex. People who seek state recognition of their partnership and those who support them don’t do it out of “hatred” of you or as “punishment” — but out of support for legal equality of all persons. It’s a positive motivation, not a negative one. Additionally, as has been pointed out time and time again, people having a legal right to something that you find immoral doesn’t infringe on your rights, it just expands theirs.

Now, to this part: “Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children.” Wow. Just, wow. I don’t like to pull the clergy abuse scandal card, but… It is beyond me that an organization thinks it can pontificate on the “most vulnerable among us, especially children” after decades of covering up, enabling, and protecting clergy who used their position of power to sexually abuse children (and continue to do so — see Minneapolis and Kansas City). The Catholic Church hasn’t done anything to systemically root out the problem — nearly all of the complicit bishops kept their jobs, many abuser priests did as well, and they scapegoated blame. Not to mention Marcial Maciel kept his influential position until 2006 despite decades of complaints to the highest levels of the Church. And yet the U.S. Catholic bishops, probably the biggest perpetrators in the abuse cover-up in memory, have the gall to say they oppose civil recognition of same-sex unions out of concern for the children. Seriously, you can’t pontificate on protecting children anymore than Bill Cosby can pontificate on consent.

Aside from the pure hypocrisy, it’s absurd that the Catholic bishops are so threatened by the idea that people (remember the vast majority of this country is not Catholic) might not live by their moral dictates. No one’s stopping them from saying how terrible same-sex relationships are, nor is anyone making them change their sacrament of matrimony (no matter how much they prophesy that’s going to happen).

To lighten things up a bit, I’ll leave you with a statement from Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago that departs from the apocalyptic tone of the USCCB [emphases mine]:

This week the Supreme Court of the United States issued two rulings with particular meaning for the Catholic Church.

In the first, the Court preserved subsidies for the 6.4 million low-income Americans who depend on them to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. We have issues with provisions of that legislation and will continue to advocate to preserve our religious freedom. However, we understand that for millions of individuals and families, most of them the working poor, this decision preserves access to health care and the promise it offers of a healthier, longer life.

In the second decision, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that two persons of the same sex have a constitutional right to marry each other. In doing so, the Court has re-defined civil marriage. The proposed reason for the ruling is the protection of equal rights for all citizens, including those who identify themselves as gay. The rapid social changes signaled by the Court ruling call us to mature and serene reflections as we move forward together. In that process, the Catholic Church will stand ready to offer a wisdom rooted in faith and a wide range of human experience.

It is important to note that the Catholic Church has an abiding concern for the dignity of gay persons. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (n. 2358). This respect must be real, not rhetorical, and ever reflective of the Church’s commitment to accompanying all people. For this reason, the Church must extend support to all families, no matter their circumstances, recognizing that we are all relatives, journeying through life under the careful watch of a loving God.

It is also important to stress that the Supreme Court’s redefinition of civil marriage has no bearing on the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony, in which the marriage of man and woman is a sign of the union of Christ and the Church. In upholding our traditional concept of marriage, we are called to support those who have entered into this sacred and loving bond with God and each other.

This will be especially important for the members of our own Church as we walk together, respectful not only of the political demands of equality, but above all else, guided by the higher claims of divine revelation. Our aim in all of this will be to hold fast to an authentic understanding of marriage which has been written in the human heart, consolidated in history, and confirmed by the Word of God.

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