God V. Gays Is a False Narrative

Close-up of holy bible on flag of America.
Close-up of holy bible on flag of America.

In the days since the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, a number of false narratives have started dominating our airwaves and social media.

People of faith are pitted against the LGBT community, which is positioned as both godless and faithless. Let's be clear -- many LGBT citizens are people of faith and hold strong religious beliefs. And every faith community in this country includes LGBT people in its pews.

The talking heads on cable claim that religious people's beliefs are under assault and that their churches will be forced to solemnize same-sex nuptials.

Let's unpack those concerns.

Freedom of religion, enshrined in the establishment clause of the first amendment, makes it crystal clear: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The right of every citizen to freely practice his or her religion is fundamental and inviolate -- as is the separation of church and state. That means that everyone is free to practice and believe what he or she likes. That was true on June 25 and remained true in the wake of the marriage decision on June 26.

It has always been the prerogative of each religious institution to decide whom it would and would not marry and if that marriage would take place in its sanctuary. Those decisions remain solely in the hands of clergy and congregations. Some churches will decide that they will perform weddings for same-sex couples, others will not. Some clergy will perform marriages and others won't. For some perspective, my very straight Catholic mother and Episcopalian father were not permitted to marry inside my mother's parish Church. (For the record, they were granted permission to marry on the steps outside of that Church.)

It is essential to understand that the marriage ruling granted same-sex couples a civil right to marry with no religious component whatsoever. That's why wedding officiates -- from judges to rabbis to priests -- conclude marriage ceremonies, saying, "by the power vested in me by the state..."

Another false narrative that has emerged is the notion that people of faith are having their religious freedom trampled because LGBT couples can now marry in every state. They argue that they should be allowed to refuse services based on their personal religious convictions.

Let's examine the not so hypothetical case of the county clerk who feels that his freedom of religion is under assault because he must now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The clerk, a civil servant, holds deep religious convictions and feels that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. The clerk is unfettered to believe that and freely express his opinion. Nevertheless, as a civil servant, employed by the county and being paid by the people of that county to carry out certain duties, he cannot start picking and choosing which civic duty he will perform based on his personal religious belief. If he won't issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, he has a very simple option to find a job that better conforms to his conscience. The free expression of his religious belief remains completely untrammeled.

One reason these false narratives flourish is that the media picks the most extreme anti-LGBT religious spokespeople to make a case. A 2012 study by the University of Missouri examined 316 news stories about LGBT issues over three years on TV and in print. 1,387 different religious sources were quoted in those stories. The study found that "three out of four religious messages came from people whose religions have formal policies opposing LGBT equality."

That unbalanced dynamic has been in overdrive since June 26, excluding the voices of so many people of faith who hold more accepting views of LGBT people and giving a megaphone to those who don't.

As an LGBT person of faith, I hope that we set aside these false narratives and start the hard work of building understanding and acceptance.

While I fully understand that some people with firm religious beliefs may never agree with me, I have faith that many more will. Especially if we can cut through the noise and start focusing on what should unite us, which is love and the golden rule.