Gay Marriage Issues: Schisms Within the Nation and Church

( [email protected] ) Feb 26, 2004 12:18 PM EST

While most of the national debate over gay marriage have centered between secular liberals and Christian conservatives, Christians are increasingly finding polemic differences within the members of the church.

"This is an argument not just between religious and nonreligious people but among religious people themselves," said John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in Ohio.

The Christian soldiers at the frontline in the battle to protect traditional marriage have been conservative evangelical Protestant groups. Pro-family groups such as Focus on the Family, Alliance Defense Fund and the Campaign for California Families rallied their support for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, as endorsed by President Bush, Tuesday.

In addition, Black Protestant ministers, Mormons and Roman Catholics, including Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, have rallied against homosexual “marriages” across the nation.

However, while in smaller numbers, liberal mainline Protestant leaders began voicing their support for equal “marriage” rights for gays, by performing “marriages” and “blessing rites” for such individuals.

Many of the mainline denominations have been struggling with homosexuality issues for years, voting on whether the church should allow gay unions or ordination.

Last November, the Episcopal (Anglican) Church USA consecrated an openly gay man as bishop, and acknowledged same-sex “marriage” blessings within the church.

"They have a great deal of legitimacy on this issue because they themselves have already been engaging (those issues)," said Laura Olson, associate professor of political science at Clemson University. "In a sense, they're in the vanguard."

In July of 2003, an agglomeration of liberal mainline Protestants and Jews formed an alliance called “Colorado Clergy for Equality in Marriage” to oppose an amendment that would protect marriage.

The 95 members of the liberal group say marriage, which is central to the Christian faith, should be open to homosexuals as well.

"It's important to say there isn't a single religious position or Christian position on this," said the Rev. Phil Campbell, senior minister of Park Hill United Church of Christ. "I think people are eager and relieved to hear that."

This split however, has not been limited between denominations. In some cases, a gap has developed within the denominations: Clergy are liberal while many congregants are conservative to moderate.

After the consecration of the gay bishop in the ECUSA, thousands of the members formed a separate alliance of Anglicans in retaliation.

In San Francisco, a Methodist pastor gave “marriage rites” to gay couples immediately after they received “marriage licenses” from the city hall. Soon after, a member from the church who disagreed with the performances took the liberal pastor to the Methodist church court.

Overall, evangelical Christians have been found more likely to agree with their leaders than mainline Protestant churchgoers.

In Catholicism, most of the leaders agree that homosexuality is a sin. Bishop Chaput, who has been highly visible on the gay-marriage front, spoke last week at a statehouse rally for the federal amendment that would protect marriage.

In addition, Chaput, along with assistant bishop Jose Gomez, issued a joint statement in support of Bush’s stance.

"Social science, the wisdom of our religious traditions and the simple common sense of our lived experience, all point in one direction - that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for the sake of raising children in a stable family, and it's vital for the well-being of society," the bishops' statement said.

70 evangelical pro-family leaders also vocally joined in the praise.

“We pledge to you that we will do everything in our power to inform and educate our constituents about the importance and urgency of this issue both for the preservation of the family in America as well as the right ordering of our government,” it reads. “We will speak on behalf of and to our communities encouraging their fullest participation in what must be a great national debate to preserve the sanctity of marriage and representative government.”