In May, President Obama became the first U.S. president to say publicly he was in favor of same-sex marriage, in a high-stakes intervention in a pre-election debate roiling American politics.
While sorting through the mounds of religious rubbish that littered the US of A during the 2012 election cycle, I found a few underreported gems. The end-of-year reports compiled by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and Believe Out Loud chronicle advances made in religious circles towards LGBT equality would have been deemed wish lists even a year ago.
Following are seven hopeful highlights:
1. The Episcopal Church made history when they passed resolutions barring discrimination in lay employment and the ordination process on the basis of gender. Also, they adopted a provisional liturgical rite to bless same-sex couples that went into effect in December. Most other mainline denominations are moving forward toward full inclusion of LGBT people.
United Methodist Church Bishop Melvin Talbert and other African American clergy defy the prevailing narrative that black churches are anti-gay by voicing their support the LBGT civil rights. All signs indicate this support will continue to grow in 2013.
3. Pride parades welcomed some unexpected marchers when some 400 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints marched in Salt Lake City Gay Pride, and alumni and students from fundamentalist Bob Jones University followed suit in the NYC Pride Parade. Also, BJUnity, a support group for LGBT students, alumni and staff connected to Bob Jones University, symbolizes the growth of pro-LGBT student groups at other conservative Christian colleges.
4. President Obama voiced his support for same-sex marriage, followed by the adoption of marriage equality as part of the Democratic Party platform. Following his re-election, Obama continued his support of marriage equality by urging state lawmakers in Illinois to approve same-sex marriage legislation.
5. After Vice President Joe Biden declared transgender rights to be the civil rights issue of our time, transgender activists met at the White House with some senior staff members as part of the activities to commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance.
6. Not even the endorsement of Billy Graham, the man deemed America’s pastor, could sway voters from making history in Maine, Maryland, and Washington when they became the first states where voters endorsed marriage equality. The other six states and the District of Columbia that previously approved same-sex marriages enacted these laws either through court rulings or legislation. For those religious leaders who claim this legislation will force them to marry couples, these laws apply to marriage as a civil right. As always, clergy can withhold rites from individuals for a host of reasons.
7. The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) announced it would hear two landmark cases involving same-sex marriage. Along these lines, Obama announced in February 2012 that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) even though this law remains on the books. Expect to see considerable advocacy from LGBT and religious right organizations on this topic when SCOTUS hears this case in March with an expected ruling in June.
These advances represent a larger shifting in theology and ecclesiology in Christian circles. The bulk of the media attention still focuses on the Christian carnival where evangelicals give late night comics a run for their money with moves such as blaming the Newtown, Conn., school massacre on the breakdown of the traditional family. Undergirding this belief is a literal interpretation of select Bible passages that declares “homosexuality” to be a sin. More progressive evangelical leaders claim they love the sinner but denounce “homosexual acts” to be sinful.
At the grassroots level, one finds a rising swell of religious voices in mainline and more liberal churches that incorporate developments in science, psychology, history, theology and other disciplines that view the Bible through 21st century eyes. In these communities one finds women and LGBT people at every level of leadership. GLAAD’s Missing Voices project that studied religious voices in mainstream media reporting “three out of four religious messages came from people whose religions have formal policies opposing LGBT equality, despite the fact that acceptance of LGBT people is growing across faith traditions.”
It is time for the media at large to shift their reporting on this topic to more accurately reflect this ongoing conversation by including pro-LGBT religious voices.