Religious reactions to the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, reigniting a debate about the impact of the decision on religious institutions. Credit: Ted Eytan via Flickr. 

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 5-4 decision that gay marriage is a nationwide protected right under the U.S. constitution. The ruling, whose majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, makes it illegal for states to refuse to grant marriage licenses to gay couples and forces states to recognize gay marriages that had been performed in other states. Essentially, gay marriage thus becomes legal in all 50 states.

Justice Kennedy wrote that the plea of the plaintiffs in the case, and the LGBT community at large, is “that they do respect [marriage], respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

Religious leaders and organizations swiftly reacted to the decision.

“Those who claim that same-sex marriage threatens the sanctity of heterosexual marriage neglect the history of the institution’s evolution both within the scriptures and over time. Sexual orientation is an essential component of human identity, and God loves and accepts all people made in God’s image," said the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, the Religion News Service reported.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that “just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over 40 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.”

Evangelicals for Marriage Equality said that “though the Supreme Court ruling this morning changed the law of the land, there is still progress to be made in changing the hearts and minds of evangelicals who disagree with civil marriage equality. This progress can only be made when compassionate, respectful dialogue is encouraged within communities of faith.”

Among Jewish leaders, Steve Fox, CEO of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, said that “as Jews, we believe we are all formed in God’s image. This compels us to extend and recognize the same rights to everyone in our community, including individuals who identify as straight, gay, lesbian, or transgender. For many years, Reform Judaism rabbis have called for equal rights for all members of our communities, and we see today’s Supreme Court decision on marriage equality as a huge moral victory for the United States.”

Leaders of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said, "The court stood on the right side of history. The decision extending the freedom to marry to all same-sex couples nationwide upholds the dignity and liberty of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people everywhere."

Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts expressed concern in his dissent that the decision "creates serious questions about religious liberty."

"Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution," Roberts wrote. "The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to 'advocate' and 'teach' their views of marriage...The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to 'exercise' religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses."

Roberts's opinion echoes the fears of many religious and politically conservative leaders. “People are scared the freedoms they’ve always taken for granted are now at risk and they’re fearing discrimination by their government for simply trying to live according to their beliefs,” said Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel for the conservative advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Among Jewish groups, the Orthodox Union (OU) questioned if "in the wake of today’s ruling... will American law continue to uphold and embody principles of religious liberty and diversity, and will the laws implementing today’s ruling and other expansions of civil rights for LGBT Americans contain appropriate accommodations and exemptions for institutions and individuals who abide by religious teachings that limit their ability to support same-sex relationships?"

"Already, several states have struck a balance by incorporating religious liberty protections into their same sex marriage statutes. This approach must continue, for the expansions of civil rights for some Americans must not come at the cost of the civil rights of other Americans," the OU said.

The Court's majority opinion did also state that “it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered."

Thus Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, author and the president of CLAL–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, pointed out in the Washington Post that "people can, will, and perhaps should, disagree about when, how and if, to fully integrate gay marriage into their particular communities and personal opinions. But as a nation committed to personal dignity, the sacredness of committed relationships, freedom of religion and the importance of equal protection under the law for all, we have much to celebrate, and I do so with a clear head and a full heart."

The American Jewish Committee's (AJC) general counsel, Marc D. Stern, said the Court's decision “does not end the battle for legal protection for LGBT equality—in employment, for example. And as the Court recognized, its decision does not silence debate about the moral and religious validity of same-sex marriage. It does mean that LGBT citizens’ right to marry is not merely an act legislative grace, but of fundamental right.”

Jewish support for the legalizing gay marriage is not a new phenomenon. The ADL had filed an amicus brief in support of legal gay marriage on behalf of many Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, arguing that religious grounds have too long been used as an excuse to discriminate against groups such as the LGBT community.

The co-signing groups on the amicus brief included AJC, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Women of Reform Judaism, Global Justice Institute, Hadassah – The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Hindu American Foundation, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Japanese American Citizens League, Jewish Social Policy Action Network, Keshet, Metropolitan Community Church, More Light Presbyterians, The National Council of Jewish Women, Nehirim, People for the American Way Foundation, Presbyterian Welcome, Reconciling Works: Lutherans for Full Participation, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Jewish Reconstructionist Communities, Religious Institute, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Society for Humanistic Judaism, South Asian Americans Leading Together, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

"We remain steadfast in our commitment to fighting for the full range of LBGT rights, including the right to be free from all forms of discrimination," said Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL national chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director, in a statement.


Posted on June 26, 2015 .