Religious views on same-sex marriage

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Various views are held or have been expressed by religious organisations in relation to same-sex marriage. Arguments both in favor of and in opposition to same-sex marriage (or equal marriage rights) is often made on religious grounds and/or formulated in terms of religious doctrine. Although the majority of world religions stand in opposition to same-sex marriage, the number of religious denominations that are conducting same-sex marriages have been increasing in recent times. Religious views on same-sex marriage is closely related to religious views on homosexuality.

Religious support


Support and affirmation of marriage rights for same-sex couples generally comes from certain Christian denominations that are considered theologically liberal. Some examples of religious organizations voicing their support for same-sex marriage include Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Christ,[1] the United Church of Canada, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),[2] the Episcopal Church of the United States, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church In America,the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Church of Denmark, the Church of Sweden, the Church of Norway, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, the United Protestant Church of France, the United Protestant Church in Belgium, the Icelandic Church, the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau, the Evangelical Church in Berlin, Brandenburg and Silesian Upper Lusatia, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Quakers and the Unitarian Universalists church which supports the rights of gays and lesbians to marry both in the church and through the state.[3][4] There are also progressive congregations and organizations within mainline Christian denominations, that have not yet officially voiced official support for same-sex marriage, but have spoken out themselves in support of equal marriage rights in the church and through the state.[5]

Some biblical scholars [weasel words] who hold to a more theologically liberal Christian view of same-sex marriage make the claim that the word "homosexual" as found in many modern versions of the Bible is an interpolation and is not found in the original biblical texts.[6] This argument from scripture holds that since the original authors of the Bible never mention 'homosexuals' or committed Christian homosexual couples, there cannot exist a biblical prohibition of marriage rights for them.[7] It is also believed that biblical texts interpreted by some to discuss homosexuality refer only to specific sex acts and idolatrous worship which lack relevance to contemporary same-sex relationships.[8] Christians who support religious and legal recognition of same-sex marriage may base their belief in same-sex marriage on the view that marriage, as an institution, and the structure of the family is a biblical moral imperative that should be honored by all couples, heterosexual and homosexual alike. Supporting marriage rights for gays and lesbians reflects their Christ-like commitment to the equality and dignity of all people.[9][10][11] It is believed by some that, "human sexual orientations, whether heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual, are a gift from God."[12]

Historian John Boswell claims the 4th century Christian martyrs Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus were united in the rite of adelphopoesis, or brother-making, which he calls an early form of religious same-sex marriage[13]

Some same-sex married couples have challenged religious organizations that exclude them from access to public facilities maintained by those organizations, such as schools, health care centers, social service agencies, summer camps, homeless shelters, nursing homes, orphanages, retreat houses, community centers, and athletic programs.[14] Opponents of same-sex marriages have expressed concerns that this limits their religious freedoms.[15] For example, conservatives worry that a Christian college would risk its tax-exempt status by refusing to admit a legally married gay couple to married-student housing.[16] Some legal analysts suggest that failure to reflect gay rights within their organizations may cost some religious groups their tax-exempt status.[17]

Religious arguments for and against marriage rights for same-sex couples are not always evenly divided among theologically conservative religious groups and liberal groups. While self-identified theological liberal organizations such as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), support same-sex marriage, other more conservative and or orthodox organizations including some Mennonite churches, the Church of the Brethren, the Old Catholic Church,[18] and the Church of Sweden[19] also support marriage rights for gay and lesbian persons.[20]

Episcopal Church of the United States

The Episcopal Church (as of 2015: 7,115 open parishes and missions; 2,009,084 active baptized members[21]) at their 2009 General Convention declared that: “bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church."[22] On July 9, 2012, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution that was to be voted on later to approve an official liturgy for blessing same-sex unions. This liturgy, called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” would enable priests to bestow the church’s blessing on same-sex couples; priests could refuse to perform marriages, and bishops could prohibit same-sex marriage in their diocese. Denial would come without penalty, but the priest or diocese would have to direct same-sex couples they decline to another church or priest willing to perform the ceremony.[23] The resolution was confirmed on July 9, 2015 (three years later) on a 129 for and 26 against (with 5 abstaining) vote.[24]

Metropolitan Community Church

The Metropolitan Community Church (43,000 members) sees its mission being social as well as spiritual by standing up for the rights of minorities, particularly those of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. MCC has been a leading force in the development of Queer theology.[25] As such, the MCC is notable for publicly supporting same-sex marriage as early as the 1960s. Notably in 1970 Troy Perry, the church's founder, filed the first lawsuit in the U.S. seeking legal recognition for same-sex marriages. Perry lost that lawsuit but launched the debate over same-sex marriage in the U.S. Today, MCC congregations around the world perform more than 6000 same-sex marriage ceremonies annually.[26]

Presbyterian Church USA

The Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission ruled in 2006 that same-sex ceremonies are not forbidden, as long as they are not considered to be the same as marriage services.[27] Debate on the issue within the church evolved over the years. In 2000, the General Assembly had approved language for the church constitution that stated church teachings were that people were “to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or in chastity in singleness.," and barred church officers and property from being used for blessing or approval upon any other form of fidelity relationship, but ratification for this language was never obtained by the presbyteries. By 2014, the General Assembly passed an Authoritative Interpretation permitting pastors to sign marriage licences for same-gender couples where permitted by civil law in the states where their church was found, which took immediate effect.[28]

On March 17, 2015, ratification by a majority of presbyteries was reached on a constitutional amendment passed by that same 2014 General Assembly, which broadened the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship from only being between “a man and a woman,” to “two people, traditionally a man and a woman,” thus giving official sanction to, while not making it mandatory for, any congregation's pastor to preside over and bless marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples.[29]

United Church of Christ

The United Church of Christ's General Synod (998,906 members) passed a resolution affirming "equal marriage rights for all people regardless of gender" in 2005. The church allows but does not require pastors to perform same-sex weddings.[30]

United Church of Canada

The United Church of Canada (600,000 members) was active in the campaign that led to legal recognition of same-sex marriages in Canada. The United Church now allows individual congregations to decide whether or not to perform these marriages.[31] Likewise, in the Protestant Church of the Netherlands, where same-sex marriages have been legal since 2001, individual congregations decide if they will perform them.[32]

Some Christians support religious and legal recognition of same-sex marriages based on a moral commitment to equality, or a belief that "human sexual orientations, whether heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual, are a gift from God", as affirmed by the United Church of Canada's 37th General Council.[12]

Liberal Catholic theologians

Even within the Roman Catholic Church, there can be found a few a groups who support for same-sex marriage. For example, while the Vatican and most of the Roman Catholic hierarchy oppose same sex marriages, there are a few Catholic theologians who support gay marriages.[33]

Critical biblical scholarship

According to Daniel A. Helminiak,[34] the Bible may be interpreted literally or within historical-cultural context. Under a literalist reading, the Bible can be read as condemning homosexuality (and, by extension, gay marriage)[35] Read in cultural context, the Bible "was not addressing our current questions about sexual ethics and does not condemn gay sex [or gay marriage]s as we understand it today."[35] Helminiak argues that Biblical passages said to be against homosexuality [and same-sex marriage]s do not actually say anything against gay and lesbian sexual relationships or identity. "The sin of Sodom was inhospitality, not homosexuality. Jude condemns sex with angels, not sex between two men. Not a single Bible text indisputably refers to lesbian sex. [...] there follows no valid conclusion whatsoever about homosexuality. Biblical figures [...] may well have been involved in homogenital relationships, seen as part of God's plan. And Jesus himself said nothing at all about homosexuality, not even when face to face with a man in a gay relationship."[35] Lisa Miller also argues for a move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world unlike our own.[36][37] Monogamy, for example, only became the norm in the Christian world in the last 150 years or so.[38] However, Miller argues that the Bible supports the idea of monogamous relationships, including gay marriage.[39]

Unitarian Universalists and Unitarians

A rally at the Unitarian Church in Summit in New Jersey advocating same-sex marriage for same-sex couples in the state. The blue banner reads "Say 'I Do' to Marriage Equality".

At the 1996 United States Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, delegates voted overwhelmingly that they would perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, and the church has been performing weddings with and without state sanction ever since.[40][41] Likewise Canadian Unitarian Universalist congregations perform same-sex marriages and the Canadian Unitarian Council their national organization supports this work through its Lay Chaplaincy program.[42] Also the British Unitarian church is at the forefront of the struggle for equal marriage rights.[43]

Conservative and Liberal Jews

Members of Conservative Judaism[44] and Reform Judaism[45] support marriages for same-sex couples. The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation leaves the choice to individual rabbis.[46]

Liberal Buddhists

Due to the ambivalent language about homosexuality in Buddhist teachings, there has been no official stance put forth regarding the issue of marriage between members of the same gender.[47]

There is no objection of the Buddha found in the Tipitaka. Buddha was neither supportive nor against marriages between members of the same gender. Also, from the Tipitaka, it is clear that the Buddha acknowledged the difference between hermaphrodites and homosexual practitioners. Hermaphrodites and eunuchs are not allowed to be ordained, but there is no sanction against homosexuality. As for the lay homosexual people, Buddha gave no rule or advice as to whether they should be allowed to marry or not. Buddha posted himself simply as the one who shows the way. He did not insist that he had any right to enforce on others what they should do. With this principle, the original teachings of the Buddha do not cover social ceremonies or rituals. Weddings and marriages of all kinds are regarded as mundane and have no place in Buddhism.[48]

On October 11, 1995, some religious leaders gave testimony to the Commission on Sexual Orientation and the Law in support of same-gender marriages. Robert Aitken, co-founder and teacher of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha, a Zen Buddhist society established in 1959, with centers in Manoa and Palolo, gave written testimony on the subject of same-sex marriage. Aitken explains that by applying the Four Noble Abodes (loving kindness, compassion, joy in the attainment of others, and equanimity) to the issue of same-sex marriage, he finds compassion for and with the gay or lesbian couple who wish to confirm their love in a legal marriage. Aitken cites a precept about sex which Zen Buddhists inherit from earlier classical Buddhists teachings.

It is one of the sixteen precepts accepted by all Zen Buddhist monks, nuns and seriously committed lay people. He understands this to mean that self-centered sexual conduct is inappropriate, and he vows to avoid it. He believes that self-centered sex is exploitive sex, non-consensual sex, sex that harms others. It is unwholesome and destructive in a heterosexual as well as in a homosexual context. He goes on to explain that The Legislative Reference Bureau compiled a formidable list of rights that are extended to married couples in Hawai'i, but which are denied to couples who are gay and lesbian.

He argues that gay and lesbian unions would be "settled even more" if they were acknowledged with basic married rights. Aitken says, "A long-standing injustice would be corrected, and the entire gay and lesbian community would feel more accepted. This would stabilize a significant segment of our society, and we would all of us be better able to acknowledge our diversity. I urge you to advise the Legislature and the people of Hawai'i that legalizing gay and lesbian marriages will be humane and in keeping with perenniel principles of decency and mutual encouragement."[49]

Liberal Hindus

There are both conservative and liberal views about homosexuality and same-sex marriages in Hinduism, similar to many other religions. A liberal view is presented by Mathematician Shakuntala Devi, in her 1977 book, The World of Homosexuals, in which she interviewed Srinivasa Raghavachariar, head priest of the Srirangam temple. He said that same-sex lovers must have been cross-sex lovers in a former life. The sex may change but the soul retains its attachments, hence the love impels these souls towards one another.[50] In 2002, Ruth Vanita (writer/reporter for GALVA - The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association, Inc.) interviewed a Shaiva priest who performed the marriage of two women; having studied Hindu scriptures, he had concluded, “Marriage is a union of spirits, and the spirit is not male or female” (p. 147).[51]

As Amara Das Wilhelm, a Krishna devotee and founder of GALVA, notes in his book, Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, "several Gaudiya Vaishnava authorities emphasize that since everyone passes through various forms, genders and species in a series of lives, we should not judge each other by the material body but view everyone equally on a spiritual plane, and be compassionate as God is."[52]

According to Ruth Vanita, "Indian newspapers, over the last 25 years, have reported several same-sex weddings and same-sex joint suicides, mostly by Hindu female couples in small towns, unconnected to any gay movement. Several weddings took place by Hindu rites, with some family support, while the suicides resulted from families forcibly separating lovers." According to Vanita, the phenomena of increased visibility of same-sex weddings "...suggest the wide range of Hindu attitudes to homosexuality today. The millennia-long debate in Hindu society, somewhat suppressed in the colonial period, has revived. In 2004, Hinduism Today reporter Rajiv Malik asked several Hindu swamis (teachers) their opinion of same-sex marriage.[53] The swamis expressed a range of opinions, positive and negative. They felt free to differ with each other; this is evidence of the liveliness of the debate, made possible by the fact that Hinduism has no one hierarchy or leader. As Mahant Ram Puri remarked, “We do not have a rule book in Hinduism. We have a hundred million authorities.”[54]

Views regarding Church-State separation

Many supporters of same sex marriages argue[55][56] that, by defining the institution of marriage as between one man and one woman, the state automatically tramples upon the constitutional rights to freedom of religion. They argue that just because a majority of religious organizations may believe that gay marriages should not be granted by the state does not make it the state's obligation to observe their opinions on this matter.[57]

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the United States Bill of Rights, expressly forbids laws being made "respecting an establishment of religion" and that prohibit the free exercise of religion.[58][59] Thus, according to this argument, the state has no authority to define marriage as between one man and woman because there are various religions which hold that gay marriage is morally equivalent to heterosexual marriage.[55][56]

Americans United for Separation of Church and State prominently expresses concern that heterosexual-only marriage laws impose a specific religious doctrine as state policy. According to them, "a marriage amendment in the Constitution [raises] important church-state and religious liberty concerns."[60]


Neopagans are generally welcoming of LGBT people, and some strands celebrate gay relationships. Support is highest in Neo-Druidism, Wicca and Asatru. [61][62] Some Wiccan groups perform handfastings and betrothals.[63]

Native American religion

Native American religions traditionally accepted same-sex marriage.[citation needed] This often came in the form of a Two-Spirit identity in which the Indigenous peoples of the Americas would fulfill one of many mixed gender roles.[64]

Religious opposition

The vast majority of Christian groups have been vocal and politically active in opposing same-sex marriage laws in the United States.[65][66] Same-sex marriage opponents sometimes claim that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples could undercut the conventional purpose of marriage.[67] Roman Catholic advocates of monogamous heterosexual marriages contend that same-sex relationships cannot be considered marriages because marriage, by definition, necessarily involves the uniting of two members of the opposite sex.[68][69] Other religious arguments for an opposite-sex definition of marriage hold that same-sex relationships should not be recognized as marriages because same-gender sexual activity is contrary to God's will,[70][71][72] is immoral,[73] and subverts God's creative intent for human sexuality.[74] Christian opposition to same-sex marriage also comes from the belief that same-sex marriage normalizes homosexual behavior and would encourage it,[75] instead of encouraging resistance to same-sex attraction.[74]


Christian denominations and groups that have been vocal and or active in their opposition to same-sex marriages include the

Assemblies of God (66.4 million members),[76] Church of God in Christ (over 8 million members),[77] [78] the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference,[79] the Conservative Mennonite Conference,[80] the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, the Hutterite Brethren,[81] the Brethren in Christ,[82] the Mennonite Church USA,[83] the Roman Catholic Church (1.2 Billion members), the Russian Orthodox Church (150 million members),[84] the Seventh-day Adventist Church (17 million members),[85] the Southern Baptist Convention (15.7 million members),[86] and the United Pentecostal Church International (2 million members). In 2009, a group of Christian leaders from various denominations issued the Manhattan Declaration, an "influential statement that united evangelicals and Catholic leaders in fighting abortion and gay marriage"; as of November 2010, the Declaration had been signed by over 475,000 individuals.[87][88]

Catholic Church opposition

The Roman Catholic Church argues from a theological perspective against recognizing same-sex unions. According to Catholic moral doctrine, acts of sexual intimacy are only proper between a man and a woman within wedlock. Secular government recognition of any other union within the definition of "marriage" would therefore reflect a belief in the moral equivalence of acts between a husband and wife and acts between two men or two women; this belief is contrary to Catholic doctrinal teaching.[citation needed]

Catholic opponents also argue that inclusion of same-sex unions within the definition of marriage would also evidence rejection of the idea that, in general, it is best that children be raised by their biological mother and father, and that it is the community's interest in ensuring the well-being of children is the sole basis for the government's licensee and involvement in marriage.[89]

Pope John Paul II, then head of the Roman Catholic church, criticized same-sex marriage[90] when it was introduced in the Netherlands in 2001. His successor Pope Benedict XVI maintained opposition to the institution, considering it amongst "the most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good today".[91][92]

Views in Scripture

Within the Christian tradition, religious objections to same-sex marriages are often based upon the Bible.

Some religious arguments against same-sex marriage are based upon Old Testament biblical passages such as Genesis 19:4-11, Leviticus 18:22, and Leviticus 20:13,[93][94][95][96] while others are based upon New Testament biblical passages such as Romans 1, I Corinthians 6:8-10, and Jude 1:7.[94][96] Conservative Christians note that the book of Leviticus contains a prohibition against male-male sexuality. Most Biblical scholars interpret Genesis 19:5 as indicating that homosexual behavior led to the destruction of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.[97] While the Biblical passages mentioned above do not define the institution of marriage, Genesis 2:22-24 reads as follows: "Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man.' For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."[98] This passage is quoted by Jesus in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew.[99] Most Christians hold the belief that Romans 1 proscribes all homosexual behavior, regardless of its relational context.[100]

Evangelical opposition

According to Reverend Rick Warren, a pastor of the conservative Evangelical Christian Saddleback megachurch, homosexuals are people who "think they are smarter than God" and who choose "to disobey God's sexual instructions."[101] According to Warren, marriage is an ordinance from God that unites a man and a woman.[101] James Dobson, in Marriage Under Fire and elsewhere, argues that legalization for or passive tolerance of same-sex marriages would widen the definition of families.

Exodus International and others take the view that I Corinthians 6:9-11 offers Christian believers freedom from the sin of homosexual behavior.[102][103] Evangelical author and counselor Joe Dallas notes that the Biblical passages relating to homosexual behavior uniformly prohibit that behavior.[104]

Other Churches

The Orthodox Church in America[105] is also opposed to same-sex marriage, as is the Unification Church.[106]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (15 million members) believes that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that children are entitled to be raised by a mother and a father who honor their marital vows with complete fidelity.[107] They believe marriage is not primarily a contract between individuals to ratify their affections and provide for mutual obligations, but is an important part of rearing children. They teach that same-sex marriage undermines the purpose of marriage.[78]

Jehovah's Witnesses (8.2 million members) believes God condemns sexual activity that is not between a husband and his wife. They teach that while the bible condemns homosexual acts, it does not condone hatred of homosexuals or homophobia.[108]

Orthodox Judaism

Judaism, like Christianity, reflects differing views between conservative and liberal adherents. Orthodox Judaism maintains the traditional Jewish bans on both sexual acts and marriage amongst members of the same sex. The Orthodox Union in the United States supported a federal Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.[109] However, it is important to note that recent research by Chana Etengoff & Colette Daiute suggest that positive reconciliations between sexual minority individuals and Orthodox Jewish family members is possible (a process referred to as theistic mediation),[110] both with and without clinical support.[111]

Theravada Buddhists

Thai Theravada Buddhists (over 150 million members), being the more conservative wing of Buddhism are less supportive of gay rights and marriages. Human rights issues have received poor attention in Theravada countries, as the culture is rooted in the belief in the Law of Karma, which is more popular among Thai Buddhists than philosophical and advanced scriptural studies in Buddhism. Many monasteries and monks advocate their lay followers to see the world through the lens of karma, i.e., every person is born to pay back their sins. According to their explanations, all homosexuals and sexual deviants were once offenders of the Third Precept (prohibiting sexual misconduct) - at least in their past lives, and they must pay off their past sins in their present life. Therefore, they deserve all that society gives to them. This belief system creates strong conservative values in Theravada Buddhist culture. For these reasons, it is unlikely that Buddhists will easily approve a law to allow gay marriage. Gay and lesbian activists in Thailand will probably not be as successful as their fellows in European countries or Canada.[48] It is important to note, however, that Theravada Buddhists outside of the South-East Asian Area, are generally more supportive, or neutral, to same-sex marriage, and LGBT rights as a whole.


The majority of Muslim legal scholars cite the rulings of Muhammad and the story of Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah as condemnation of homosexuality. Given that Islam views marriage as an exchange between two parties of protection and security for exclusive sexual and reproductive rights, same-sex marriages cannot be considered legal within the constraints of a Muslim marriage.

Freedom of religion

One source of controversy is how same-sex marriage affects freedom of religion.[112] There is concern that religious communities might not be legally able to decide what type of marriages to solemnize.[113] Some same-sex married couples have challenged religious organizations that exclude them from access to public facilities maintained by those organizations, such as schools, health care centers, social service agencies, summer camps, homeless shelters, nursing homes, orphanages, retreat houses, community centers, and athletic programs.[14] Opponents of same-sex marriage have expressed concerns that this limits their religious freedoms.[15] For example, conservatives worry that a Christian college would risk its tax-exempt status by refusing to admit a legally married gay couple to married-student housing.[16] Some legal analysts suggest that failure to reflect gay rights within their organizations may cost some religious groups their tax-exempt status.[17] In addition, religious opponents of same-sex marriage express concern about several specific instances in which they contend that religious freedoms have been abridged due to legal recognition of same-sex unions, including (a) an incident in Canada (which is subject to a different set of laws concerning same-sex marriage than the United States), in which the Knights of Columbus were sued for declining to allow a same-sex wedding reception on their property;[114] (b) removal of real property tax exemption from a New Jersey Christian organization that did not allow a civil union ceremony to be performed on their property;[115] (c) requirements that judges and justices of the peace perform same-sex wedding ceremonies;[116] and (d) the forced closing of Catholic adoption agencies which refused to place children in the homes of married same-sex partners.[117][118]

There is also a concern that religious people might be marginalized for their beliefs about marriage.[119][120] Opponents point to the way Carrie Prejean was treated during the Miss USA 2009 controversy.[121] There are also concerns about violence and intimidation against religious people. After a vote to make same-sex marriage illegal in California, same-sex marriage supporters published names of donors to the bill and classified them based on religion and many religious symbols were targeted. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the LDS Church likened the attacks against religious people to voter intimidation against black people during the American civil rights movement.[122] Some governments have made special provisions for religious protections within the texts of same-sex marriage laws.[123]

Americans United for Separation of Church and State argue that by defining marriage as an opposite-sex institution, the state infringes upon the constitutional right to freedom of religion.[55][56][57] In this view, religious groups that do wish to celebrate same-sex marriages are discriminated against when government policies do not permit their religious groups to celebrate marriages as they see fit.


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