December 7, 2012

Religious Groups’ Official Positions on Same-Sex Marriage

In recent years, same-sex marriage has been a contentious subject within many religious groups in the U.S. Here is an overview of where 16 religious groups stand on this issue.

American Baptist Churches USA

In 2005, the governing body of the American Baptist Churches USA affirmed that “God’s design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman” and that “homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching.” In 2006, the church’s Pacific Southwest regional board (which includes churches in California, Hawaii, Nevada and Arizona) split from the denomination because the denomination’s national leadership declined to penalize congregations that welcomed openly gay members.

In this research package

Buddhism

There is no universal Buddhist position on same-sex marriage. According to some interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings, one of the 10 non-virtuous deeds that lead to suffering is “sexual misconduct.” This term is generally understood to refer primarily to adultery. However, some Buddhists interpret the term to include homosexuality.

Catholicism

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes same-sex marriage on the ground that “marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman.” In 2003, the conference stated that “what are called ‘homosexual unions’ [cannot be given the status of marriage] because they do not express full human complementarity and because they are inherently nonprocreative.” In 2006, the conference reaffirmed its previously stated support for a federal marriage amendment (a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman). And in 2009, the conference issued a pastoral letter on marriage that once again defined the institution as a “bond between one man and one woman.”

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism)

Mormon theology stipulates that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.” As a result, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not endorse same-sex marriage.

Episcopal Church

In July 2012, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved a liturgy for blessing same-sex relationships. The new liturgy, which will take effect in December 2012, falls short of a marriage rite. However, the “blessing” ceremony resembles the marriage ceremony in most ways, including an exchange of vows and agreement by the couple to be in a lifelong committed relationship. The ritual for same-sex couples will not be mandatory. Each Episcopal bishop will decide whether to allow churches in his or her jurisdiction to use the new liturgy to bless same-sex unions. And in those dioceses where blessing same-sex relationships is permissible, no Episcopal priest will be required to perform the blessing ceremony.

The Episcopal Church has been moving toward recognition of same-sex marriage for some time. In 2006 the church stated its “support of gay and lesbian persons and [opposition to] any state or federal constitutional amendment” prohibiting same-sex marriages or civil unions (Resolution A095).

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The ELCA defines marriage as “a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman.” However, at its 2009 church-wide assembly, it voted to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize and bless same-sex unions. At the same assembly, the church also adopted a social statement on human sexuality that supports a wide variety of families, including those headed by same-gender couples.

Hinduism

There is no official Hindu position on same-sex marriage. Some Hindus condemn the practice of homosexuality, but others cite ancient Hindu texts, such as the Kama Sutra, that seem to condone homosexual behavior.

Islam

Islamic law forbids homosexuality, and the practice of homosexuality is a crime in many Islamic countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Judaism

The Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish movements have supported gay and lesbian rights, including same-sex marriage, since the mid-1990s. In June 2012, the Conservative Jewish movement approved a ceremony to allow same-sex couples to marry. All three movements also allow individual rabbis to choose not to officiate at the weddings of gay and lesbian couples. Orthodox Judaism does not accept same-sex marriage, and its highest governing body, the Orthodox Union, has lobbied against gay marriage nationally and in various states.

Reform movement:

Reconstructionist movement:

Conservative movement:

Orthodox Judaism:

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

In 2006, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod reaffirmed its position that same-sex marriage is “contrary to the will of the Creator.” At its 2010 national convention, the LCMS responded to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s 2009 decision (which gave ELCA congregations the option to support lifelong, monogamous, same-sex relationships) by restating the LCMS position that homosexuality is a sin “in any and all situations” and by encouraging the ELCA to reconsider its decision.

National Association of Evangelicals

In 2004, the National Association of Evangelicals reaffirmed its 1985 resolution that homosexuality is not sanctioned by the Bible. Thus the group does not support gay marriage or civil unions.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, a position the church’s General Assembly reaffirmed in 2010. In 2000, however, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission – the denomination’s highest judicial body – issued a decision allowing Presbyterian ministers to bless same-sex unions as long as those ceremonies do not equate same-sex unions with marriage. Additionally, in 2004, the General Assembly urged state legislatures to give individuals in same-gender relationships the right to be joined in civil unions.

Southern Baptist Convention

In 2003, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a statement reaffirming its opposition to gay marriage. It called on “Southern Baptists not only to stand against same-sex unions but to demonstrate our love for those practicing homosexuality by sharing with them the forgiving and transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).” In 2012, at its annual convention, church representatives passed a resolution once again affirming its opposition to same-sex marriage and stating that gay marriage is not “a civil rights issue.”

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

In 1996, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations passed a resolution in support of same-sex marriage.

United Church of Christ

In 2005, the United Church of Christ’s General Synod voted to legally recognize and advocate in favor of same-sex marriage. Given the autonomous nature of United Church of Christ churches, each congregation may adopt or reject the recommendations of the General Synod.

United Methodist Church

In 2008, the United Methodist Church’s top policymaking body reaffirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman. Additionally, the UMC’s Judicial Council ruled in 2009 that church law prohibits clergy from performing same-sex marriages. Thus, the denomination does not sanction UMC ministers or UMC churches to conduct civil union ceremonies, despite appeals from some regional congregations and clergy that it do so. During the 2012 meeting of the General Conference, delegates voted down a resolution that would have struck from the UMC’s Book of Doctrine and Rules language stating that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Delegates also tabled a proposal to allow churches to bless same-sex unions.