Pluralism & Prejudice: Catholic Bishops, Mormons, Evangelicals Unite To Oppose Equality

On Monday, five religious organizations filed an amicus brief urging the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold bans on same-sex couples getting married in Utah and Oklahoma. According to the Associated Press, the brief was written by lawyers for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and was joined by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

The thrust of the brief is to argue that there are sound social policy reasons to oppose marriage equality, and to attack the notion that opposition to gay couples getting married is grounded in anti-gay prejudice, or “animus.” Says the brief, “The accusation is false and offensive.”

“Our faith communities bear no ill will toward same-sex couples, but rather have marriage-affirming religious beliefs that merge with both practical experience and sociological fact to convince us that retaining the husband-wife marriage definition is essential.”

No ill will toward same-sex couples?  Let’s review.

We can start with the Southern Baptists, who have officially declared that “homosexual conduct is always a gross moral and spiritual abomination for any person, whether male or female, under any circumstance, without exception” and that they even oppose businesses extending benefits to domestic partners.  OK, to be fair, that was 1997. The SBC voted in 2003 to “call upon all judges and public officials to resist and oppose the legalization of same-sex unions,” and in 2008 called for constitutional amendment to prevent same-sex couples from getting married anywhere in the U.S.

Richard Land, who was for 25 years the voice of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission until his retirement last fall, has said the Devil takes pleasure in the destructive homosexual lifestyle.  In 2012, Land said, “God is already judging America and will judge her more harshly as we continue to move down this path toward sexual paganization.” A year earlier he accused gay rights activists of “child abuse” for “recruiting” children in elementary school.

Land’s retirement was expected to shift the ERLC’s tone; but the group still opposes ENDA, a proposed federal law to protect LGBT people from discrimination on the job.

Let’s see, who else opposes ENDA, domestic partnerships, civil unions, and marriage equality? That would be the US Conference of Catholic bishops. The bishops have said they oppose “unjust discrimination” against people with same-sex attractions, but they define the term “unjust” in a way that applies only to people who remain celibate. So if you are a gay couple and you are having sex, workplace discrimination against you is justified, as is a refusal to legally recognize your relationship.

A number of prominent U.S. bishops signed, and urged other Catholics to sign, the Manhattan Declaration, which compared liberals to Nazis. It declares conservatives’ positions on marriage to be "inviolable and non-negotiable," and pledges that conservatives will engage in civil disobedience, and may even need to prepare for martyrdom, in order to avoid recognizing legally married same-sex couples.

Let’s not forget Bishop Thomas Paprocki, from Springfield, Illinois, who told Catholics in 2012 that voting for the equality-supporting Democratic Party would put their eternal souls in jeopardy, and who responded to the passage of marriage equality in Illinois by conducting an exorcism.

The Mormon Church was a driving force in opposition to early marriage equality moves in Hawaii and Alaska and was crucial to the success of California’s Prop 8, providing tens of thousands of volunteers and a flood of cash. After a post-Prop-8 backlash from both inside and outside the church, LDS officials seemed to have abandoned the anti-marriage-equality crusade. The church says it supported Salt Lake City ordinances banning discrimination in housing and employment and has supported same-sex couples’ rights regarding “hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights” – sounds good – “so long as those do not infringe of the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.” Hmm.

How about the National Association of Evangelicals?  In 2008, Richard Cizik, the longtime public policy face of the NAE, was forced to resign after he publicly expressed support for civil unions.

Unlike the more progressive Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the more conservative Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) strongly opposes LGBT equality. In a statement after the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, the church insisted, “Same-sex unions are contrary to God’s will, and gay marriage is, in the eyes of God, no marriage at all… no matter what the courts or legislatures may say.” The conservative Lutherans have backed HJR 6 in Indiana, which is attempting to add a ban on marriage equality to the state constitution.

In January, the LCMS announced it was entering formal discussions with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Makane Yesus, which cut its longstanding ties with the ELCA last year over sexuality issues. The Ethiopian church was so disturbed by the ELCA’s pro-equality positions that it has declared its members may not share communion with ELCA members.  Ethiopia’s churches and government, with the encouragement of American missionaries, have, in the words of a recent disturbing Newsweek article, “declared war on gay men.”

So, maybe it depends what you mean by “ill will.”