Over two dozen major denominations and other religious groups signed a joint letter to Congress this week, urging the defeat of the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). Most coverage of this issue would lead people to believe the religious community strongly supports the amendment, but this letter presents a different picture.
The self appointed arbiters of morality who are lobbying for the FMA often frame their arguments in religious terminology. The FMA's sponsor in the House of Representatives, Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), recently suggested that marriage should consist only of a man and a woman because it is God's created order. Religious Right leader James Dobson recently explained his support of the amendment by declaring that "Marriage is a sacrament designed by God that serves as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and His Church."
Despite this background noise from the far right, a broad range of religious groups oppose the amendment. Lutheran, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Jewish groups, Sikhs and more came together around the simple fact that the Federal Marriage Amendment will jeopardize religious liberty by taking the view of marriage favored by some denominations and writing that into law.
In their letter to Congress, the religious groups charge that altering the Constitution would undermine religious freedom for all.
"For over two hundred years, the Constitution has had no provision on marriage, the matter being left to the states and the teachings of various religious groups," the letter states. "Our nation's founders adopted the First Amendment precisely because they foresaw the dangers posed by allowing government to have control over religious decisions. The religious freedom protected by the First Amendment has allowed religious practice and pluralism to flourish. Respecting the rights of those in the faith community who deem sacred text consistent with the blessing of the same-sex relationships protects and ensures that freedom."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, also opposes the FMA. As a United Church of Christ minister, he told The New York Times, "I am disturbed that even though I can perform a religious ritual to unite a same-gender couple, the state won't recognize it because some different religious group thinks I am theologically wrong."
The addition of mainstream religious voices in this debate will help Congress more realistically understand the stance of religious groups on the issues of individual civil rights and separation of church and state.