Marriage Equality Is a Theological Necessity

New York - As people of faith and leaders of religious institutions in New York City, we support ending the exclusion of our gay brothers and sisters from civil marriage. Opponents of marriage equality too often attempt to use arguments about religion to denounce equal civil marriage laws. As Christians, we believe it is crucial for us to support the freedom to marry for loving and committed gay couples. In fact, we believe it is a theological necessity, and we call on our state legislators to take action to end inequality now.

Our support for marriage equality is motivated by our religious commitments, not in spite of them. Our Christian faith teaches us the uncompromising, unconditional love of God for all people. Bound together by that love we are all deserving of dignity, equality, and justice. But, because of our belief in the universal capacity to sin, we are suspicious of merely private efforts to enshrine equality, recognizing that all people and all groups are susceptible to prejudice, error, and mistreatment of and by others. Children of the Protestant Reformations, we believe that the state exists to uphold absolute and unequivocal equality under the law for all persons. As religious communities continue to wrestle with interpretation of sacred texts about the meaning and ordinance of marriage, our gay brothers and sisters deserve the same dignity, respect, and protections under the law as different sex couples receive in our state and our country.

Marriage equality and religious freedom are not in conflict. When states grant the civil rights of marriage to gay couples, religious communities still maintain their right to recognize whichever relationships they see fit as a religious community. We believe that debates about the meaning of Christian marriage can only take place honestly when the state provides equality and fairness for all. This is all the more true because there is no one Christian position about marriage: many different interpretations exist within our traditions, and it is a challenging task within Christian communities to discern our way forward despite theological differences. While we welcome theological discussion about the religious understanding of marriage, we insist on full, equal civil rights for all couples who wish to share their lives in committed and loving relationships with one another.

Imagine, on any given day, couples from myriad faith traditions entering churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, even beaches and backyards to wed with the blessing and rituals of their religious communities -- but the legal contracts that bind them by the power of the state all look the same. In a land of true equality, civil marriage contracts must be open to all loving couples who seek to undertake the promises and responsibilities of life-long partnership.

The dedication to upholding religious freedom through civil equality was reaffirmed in the Iowa Supreme Court's decision which ended marriage discrimination against gay couples in Iowa. The ruling stated, "[W]e give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage -- religious or otherwise -- by giving respect to our constitutional principles....The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires."

We've also learned from nearly five years of marriage equality in Massachusetts that religious freedoms are not endangered because civil equality has been upheld. In Massachusetts the institution of marriage is being strengthened by loving and committed gay couples receiving marriage licenses from the state. At the time of this writing, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maine have joined Massachusetts in ending marriage discrimination against gay couples. It is time for New York to take action and support marriage equality.

As ministers and people of faith, we call on the legislative leaders of New York to decisively end marriage discrimination in our state. We call too on our fellow Christians to engage in robust theological discussion within our communities about the meaning, value, and role of Christian marriage without resorting to tactics of fear-mongering and civil disputes.

We stand with our legislators as people of faith in support of fairness for all families. Attacks will come, cloaked in the language of religion, from those who oppose equality. But speaking as committed Christian leaders in New York, we support the promise of civil freedom and equality. We cannot abandon civil rights protected by the state without endangering the very ground for religious freedom. Ending the exclusion of gay couples from marriage will strengthen families and provide loving, committed couples with the full equality under the law that our faith teaches us is requisite for any just society. As people of faith we call for full marriage equality and give thanks to God for the civil government that will allow it.