Faith groups unite in 'gay marriage' case
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A diverse coalition that includes some of the nation's leading religious groups -- Southern Baptists, Catholics, Mormons and Jews -- has come together to file a legal brief in a major federal "gay marriage" case, asserting that redefining marriage to include homosexual couples could adversely affect the children raised in such homes.
The groups also assert that their argument is not motivated by prejudice but by, in part, common sense and social science.
"Research rebuts the suggestion that either fathers or mothers are unnecessary for effective childrearing," the 31-page brief, filed Jan. 27 with the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, states. "... Through millions of hours of counseling and other ministry over literally centuries, we have seen at close range the enormous benefits that traditional male-female marriage imparts. We have also witnessed the substantial adverse consequences for children, parents, and civil society that often flow from alternative household arrangements."
The friend-of-the-court brief ads, "Our faith communities are intimately familiar with the personal tragedies so often associated with fatherless and motherless parenting and family disintegration."
The brief was filed nearly seven months after Judge Joseph L. Tauro issued a landmark decision striking down part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and ruling that the federal government must recognize "gay marriages" from such states as Massachusetts and Vermont. It was appealed, and if upheld by the First Circuit, would place the United States alongside the 10 other countries worldwide that recognize homosexual "marriage." It also would force the government to grant federal benefits, such as tax breaks and federal employee spousal insurance, to same-sex couples.
Eighteen religious groups representing "tens of millions of Americans" signed onto the brief, including the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in America.
DOMA, as it is called, passed by wide margins in the House and Senate in 1996 and was signed by President Clinton. Congress said the law was needed, in part, to encourage "responsible procreation and child rearing," but Tauro, in his ruling, said the Constitution does not allow Congress to defend "traditional notions of morality."
The Obama Justice Department has abandoned the childrearing argument in its defense of the law, but the religious groups do just the opposite, encouraging the First Circuit to focus on the issue. The religious groups also argue that the Supreme Court has upheld morality as the basis for laws. The brief says it is "absurd" to think that a law cannot have a moral basis.
"Nearly all legislation involves moral judgments," the brief states. "The great legislative debates of the past century -- from business and labor regulations, to civil rights legislation, to environmentalism, to military spending, to universal health care, etc. -- centered on contested questions of morality. The same is true of our current democratic conversation about the definition and purpose of marriage, which the Supreme Court long ago recognized as having 'more to do with the morals and civilization of a people than any other institution.'"
Striking down DOMA, the groups argue, would "not remove morality from the marriage debate."
"But it would disenfranchise millions of Americans who take one side of that debate while privileging those with the opposing view," the brief says.
The groups say the Defense of Marriage Act is based not on religion but on social science and common sense. DOMA is needed, they say, because man-woman marriage is "closely tied to the welfare of children, the well-being of the family, and the health of the nation."
The groups express frustration over Tauro's claim that "it is only irrational prejudice that motivates" legislators to protect the traditional definition of marriage.
"That is simply untrue," the brief states. "As supporters of DOMA, our deepest convictions about marriage are quite distinct from our beliefs concerning homosexuality, and it is false and unfair to marginalize those convictions by portraying them as 'irrational prejudice.' Our faith communities and other religious organizations have a long and vibrant history of upholding traditional marriage for reasons that have little to do with homosexuality."
The brief concludes, "[W]hatever the failings (past or present) of particular individuals within our religious communities, we are united in condemning hatred and mistreatment of homosexuals. We believe that God calls us to love homosexual persons, even as we steadfastly defend our belief that traditional marriage is both divinely ordained and experientially best for families and society. This considered judgment is informed by our moral reasoning, our religious convictions, and our long experience counseling and ministering to adults and children."
In addition to the groups already mentioned, the following groups also signed the brief: the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the Brethren in Christ Church, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, the Evangelical Free Church of America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Missionary Church, Open Bible Churches (USA), the United Brethren in Christ Church, and the Wesleyan Church.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.