Marriage: Rights & Rites
The institution of marriage exhibits a complex history of legal, cultural, and religious issues. In the last half of 2003 it also quickly became one of the most contentious political issues in American society and has remained so since then. Each new election cycle, both local and national, resurfaces this highly charged debate. In 2008, several more states joined the list of those with voter-mandated restrictions on the right to marry (including restrictions on the right to adopt children).
In 2009, several court-mandated and legistlative decisions marked milestones for progress.Five states now issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples (Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont). In that same year, however, the Calfornia Supreme Court upheld the right of voters to remove the civil right of marriage from same-gender couples.
Throughout all of these contestations, the difference between civil rights and religious rites remains confused and blurred. Equal access to a civil contract (especially one to which so many benefits accrue) is a matter of social justice, of civil rights. Granting full marriage equality to lesbian and gay couples would in no way endanger the religious rite of marriage for faith communities with differing views. Still, even as we live with the official "separation of church and state" in the U.S., religious discourse continues to shape the debate over the civil right of lesbian and gay people to enjoy the benefits and responsibilities of marriage.
The claim that marriage is "sacred" and therefore ought to be reserved for the relationship between a man and a woman betrays the complex history of marriage in the church and in Western society as a whole. It also obscures the legal and civic implications of this debate. Given this political and cultural landscape, working for full marriage equality necessarily involves clear thinking about the religious history and the religious ideas which inform the institution of marriage. (For more resources on that history and its relevance for contemporary debates, consult this bibliography.)
The CLGS Marriage and Family Project approaches these issues by providing a variety of resources for communities of faith, LGBT activists, and the news media. Here you will find materials on the history of marriage in Christian traditions, talking points for understanding the civil rights involved in marriage, liturgical and theological resources for engaging this issue in faith communities, and links to denominational and other organizational resources for sorting through the implications of this debate for our religious and civic institutions.
In this Marriage and Family Project, CLGS engages two interrelated tasks: 1) to call communities of faith to social action for full marriage equality as a matter of civil rights; and 2) to inform and enrich the theological conversation about marriage in our religious institutions.Together, these two task will help to ensure not onl protection for LGBT families but also greatly enriched and thriving faith communities.
Civil Rights and Religious Rites
In the United States the institution of marriage grants over 1,000 federal legal benefits to married couples, benefits which deal with such issues as property inheritance, hospital visitation, the adoption and custody of children and immigration, to name but a few. Excluding lesbian and gay families from these benefits is a violation of fundamental civil rights and, clearly, working for the freedom to marry is a matter of social justice. Securing these civil rights for lesbian and gay people would in no way compel religious institutions to celebrate their relationships with liturgies or other rites of union. Churches, synagogues and other communities of faith would still retain their freedom to decide this question on their own. At the same time, the long history of religious advocacy for social justice in this country provides ample religious reasons for communities of faith to work for the freedom to marry for lesbian and gay couples.
The CLGS Marriage and Family Project provides a way to understand this fundamental distinction between civil rights and religious rites.(Read a first-hand account of a minister's religious struggle with the civil contract of marriage and her call to separate more clearly civil and religious marriage-- here.)
Stable Families and Religious Practice
While some communities of faith will want to engage the question of marriage politically and for reasons of social justice, others will want to explore further the theology and spirituality of marriage and family life, as well as the religious implications of celebrating same-gender relationships. The meaning of "family" and of committed, loving relationships marked by fidelity involves fundamental religious convictions. Including gay and lesbian couples in the conversation about marriage and family prompts significant theological reflection on sexuality, gender, and erotic commitments.
The CLGS Marriage and Family Project provides theological materials for exploring the significance of marriage in religious institutions and for equipping communities of faith for reflecting on the intersections of family and religious practice.
Call to Action and Conversation
The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry supports whole-heartedly the movement for full marriage equality as a matter of social justice and for the purpose of securing for lesbian and gay people the same civil rights enjoyed by all Americans. CLGS also acknowledges the conflicted history of marriage and the desire of some LGBT people to configure their relationships and families without participating in the institution of marriage.
The CLGS Marriage and Family Project provides resources for enriching this ongoing conversation in communities of faith and in our society more generally about this critical issue. CLGS also invites and welcomes feedback about the Marriage Project as we seek to broaden this conversation, clarify the issues at hand and reclaim religious faith as a resource for social justice.