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This week New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Iowa already allow gay marriage. A key element in the success or failure of gay marriage initiatives is the role of the faith communities. The success in New Hampshire shows how religious opponents are losing their ‘moral monopoly.’
New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Bishop in the Episcopal Church, spoke today about his joy at the decision. He also spoke about the New Hampshire experience and emphasized that making a mainstream case to the American public on gay equality issues requires breaking up the moral monopoly that has been held by opponents of gay marriage. The religious communities of New Hampshire were critical, Robinson noted, in this recent decision.
Bishop Robinson made his remarks during a press call organized by the Center for American Progress about two reports have just been released that make the same point as the Bishop was making. The reports, done separately by two different groups, analyze the lessons learned from California and Proposition 8, and an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative in Michigan. The CA report was done by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the MI report was done by the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative of the Center for American Progress.
The report on CA says explicitly that Proposition 8 as well as most anti-gay measures “are rooted in conservative religion, therefore religious opposition requires a religious response.”
The Center for American Progress report draws the same conclusion and applies it to strategy and messaging. “First, it is important for LGBT advocates and progressive faith leaders to work together, even before a ballot initiative campaign begins. It is far easier to plug into existing alliances than create them from scratch when a campaign is starting. Having an infrastructure in place is extremely valuable–it saves time, broadens outreach, and provides insider advocates within faith communities.”
In this press conference, however, Bishop Robinson did also stress a faith strategy in New Hampshire that was not included in either report. This strategy, used successfully in New Hampshire, was that the bill “stated, re-stated and overstated that no religious institutions or practices would be affected” if this measure passed.
This can seem, on the surface, to be contradictory with the reports’ stress on involving religious leaders and communites. Does religion belong in this struggle or is it best to ‘get the religion out of it?’ It’s actually both.
Over half of mainstream pastors support same-sex marriage, especially when it is made clear that they will not necessarily have to perform these marriages says a recently released report by Public Religion Research.
This was a part of the successful strategy In New Hampshire. Robinson said, “”we were careful to teach the public the difference between civil marriage and religious marriage. I made the case…that we’ve gotten confused in this country about that separation. Clergy have been enlisted as agents of the state–when is it civil and when is it religious?…When a marriage fails, you don’t go back to the church. Marriage is a civil action that is blessed by the church.” This argument takes on particular weight when it is religious leaders who are making the argument for religious freedom. In other state battles, this has been framed more as a secular argument for separation of church and state.
“When those protections were included,” Bishop Robinson continued, it “undercut the arguments from the other side.”
Protecting the freedom of religion, when that is a faith-based case, is another way to undercut the “moral monopoly” of the religious opponents to gay equality under the law. The broad middle of the American public seem ready to accept those arguments when they are linked.