Religious leaders unite in defense of marriage, religious liberty

By Doug Carlson
Jan 17, 2012

On matters of theology, religious leaders from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Jewish and Pentecostal communities hold differing views. That is no secret. But leaders from these and multiple other religious traditions are rallying together with a shared perspective on a fundamental institution of society—marriage—and they want to be sure that is no secret either.

In an open letter to the American people, nearly 40 religious leaders “join[ed] together to affirm that marriage in its true definition must be protected for its own sake and for the good of society.”

Entitled “Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together,” the letter released Jan. 12 affirms that the “promotion and protection of” traditional marriage is “a matter of the common good and serves the wellbeing of the couple, of children, of civil society and all people,” adding that changing the definition of marriage would result in “grave consequences.”

Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Dr. Barrett Duke, the agency’s vice president for public policy and research, were among the signers of the letter.

The other 37 religious leaders who signed hail from denominations and organizations as wide-ranging as the Anglican Church in America, the Assemblies of God, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Salvation Army, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, among dozens of others.

As the title of the letter indicates, a chief concern about redefining marriage is what it would mean for religious freedom. The two, the signers suggest, are intertwined. To allow for the expansion of marriage, as they rightly note, would open the door to all kinds of problems for those who stand their ground on marriage, citing religious convictions.

Cautioning about what a marriage redefinition could produce, the leaders laid out what they consider to be the “most urgent peril”: “forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations—throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies—to treat same-sex conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct.” This, they argue, is because altering the definition of marriage would change not simply one law but countless laws.

What this means in practice, they warn, is that people of faith will likely find their religious freedom on a collision course with a redefinition of marriage. The leaders note multiple examples. Religious adoption agencies could be forced to place children with same-sex couples in violation of their convictions. Marriage counselors could have their licenses revoked for refusing to counsel same-sex couples. Employers who provide certain health benefits to married couples could be forced to extend the same benefits to employees in same-sex relationships. The list of likely scenarios goes on.

The letter comes at a pivotal time. Without question, the future of marriage in the United States is in serious jeopardy. From a legal standpoint, challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—the federal law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman and protecting states from being forced to recognize same-sex “marriages” performed elsewhere—are making their way through the courts. In July 2010, a federal district court judge kicked off the attack on DOMA in earnest, striking down part of the law.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department announced a year ago that it would no longer defend DOMA against legal challenges in federal courts. That leaves DOMA with a weakened defense from the onset.

From a legislative standpoint, a growing number of lawmakers are seeking to repeal DOMA. In November, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance a repealing of the 1996 law. The 10-8 vote clears a major hurdle for the repeal measure, the deceptively titled Respect for Marriage Act (S. 598), to receive a vote in the full Senate.

Having just commemorated Religious Freedom Day on Monday, and with World Marriage Day (Feb. 12) and National Marriage Week USA (Feb. 7-14) soon to follow, the religious leaders’ letter on marriage and religious freedom is a timely reminder of the importance of marriage as ordained by God.

To be sure, “[m]arriage and religious freedom are both deeply woven into the fabric of this nation,” as the leaders note. With that in mind, we ought to resist every effort to tear the sacred institution apart. Protecting marriage and religious freedom, after all, is that important.

The Jan. 12 letter entitled “Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together,” signed by nearly 40 religious leaders, is available here.

Further Learning

Learn more about: Family, Marriage, Citizenship, Legislation, Religious Liberty,

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