Tuesday, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court ruling that California’s initiative repealing marriage equality (Proposition 8) is in violation of the federal Constitution.
Prop 8 was passed by voters in November of 2008, to take away the protections of marriage from gay and lesbian couples in California. Although it’s only been three and a half years, so much has changed in the way America looks at this issue since then. Seven consecutive national polls have shown that a majority of Americans now support marriage equality. But the difference goes beyond just a change in the number of people who support marriage equality - we’ve also seen a change in why they do.
In 2008, the “gays versus religion” frame was strongly entrenched in the mentality of the American public. Much of the driving force behind Prop 8, in terms of both organization and money, came from the leadership of the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches. People of faith who were personally supportive of marriage equality didn’t speak out, or felt that their support of LGBT people would be seen as being at odds with their faith.
That is no longer the case. We are in a new reality.
Since 2008, we have seen faith-based campaigns like Believe Out Loud raise up the stories of LGBT and affirming faith leaders who have decided that they cannot be silent about their faith and their belief that God created and loves the whole world, and that God’s creation includes the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
Since 2008, we have seen entire denominations change their policy to be more fully inclusive of LGBT people in the life of the faith community. The Episcopal Church passed a formal policy allowing the election openly gay and lesbian bishops, as well as allowing congregations to support and bless same-gender couples. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has allowed its congregations to recognize couples in committed same-gender relationships and clergy in such relationships. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has removed barriers to ordination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. All of these moves and actions are little steps to affirm the God-given humanity of LGBT people.
And these voices of faith, speaking out in support of the LGBT community, have helped drive the public opinion shift. A majority of Americans now support marriage equality, thanks in large part to hearing the voices of loving and committed same-sex couples. According the Public Religion Research Institute, majorities within most religious groups favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. These religious groups 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 in numbers and working toward LGBT equality both inside and outside their denominations.
Since 2008, we have also seen shifts among those who drove Proposition 8. More and more, we’ve seen both Mormons and Catholics speak out in support of LGBT people. Mormon leaders such as Mitch Mayne and Bishop Kevin Kloosterman have both challenged their church, and reached out to the LGBT population. Catholic organizations who make up the Equally Blessed Coalition are now speaking out in support of marriage equality in several states.
It is indeed a new reality. In less than four years, our country has come from being one that pitted LGBT people against people of faith. Those of us who hold both of identities of LGBT and faithful no longer have that same struggle. We are not being called to deny our God or the way that God made us. This affirmation from the courts, the increasing public acceptance, and the leadership of people of faith in the call for LGBT inclusion affirms us in our faith, our identity, and our place in this country.
When Tuesday’s court decision was released, many faith groups released statements expressing their joy. More Light Presbyterians, Integrity (Episcopal), and the United Church of Christ quickly offered thanks to God for the court decision. Affirmation Mormons lifted up their “I Support Marriage Equality - and I’m a Mormon” campaign. These voices are being combined with people from many denominations and religious groups to affirm and support LGBT couples and their families. It’s a joyful moment shared among many communities of faith.
While many of us are feeling great joy about the court decision today, we know that this issue is far from settled. The decision is likely to be appealed. There are those who continue to deny that God created LGBT people as they are and, as such, should have a place at the table. For this reason, we still desperately need more people of faith to continue to speak out and share their faith and their belief in a fully inclusive society.
The work toward full participation continues. It continues in all faith communities, and it will continue in the public sphere as well. But for this moment, this instance, we can look back at where we have come from and see where we are. And in doing, we can see the road ahead of us. And we trust that we will be given strength for the journey.
Ross Murray, Director of Religion, Faith & Values at GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).