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Religious Voices Are Critical for the Advancement of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equality

A Profile of State Battles Over Marriage Equality

SOURCE: AP/Ron Lewis

Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, center, rallies against California's Proposition 8 with others on October 21, 2008, at City Hall in Oakland, CA.

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Last week the Center for American Progress and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s National Religious Leadership Roundtable released two groundbreaking reports analyzing religious and secular advocacy of marriage-equality ballot initiatives in California and Michigan.

The two reports—which examined campaigns in different states four years apart—draw remarkably similar conclusions about the need for partnerships between religious and secular supporters of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender or LGBT people.

The Center’s report, “The Faithful Divide Over Wedding Vows: A Profile of Michigan’s 2004 Battle Over Marriage Equality,” examines the role that religious groups played in support of and opposition to Proposal 2, the ballot initiative on marriage equality in Michigan.

The Task Force’s report, “A Time to Build-Up: Analysis of the No on Proposition 8 Campaign and Its Implications for Future Pro-LGBTQQIA Religious Organizing,” examines last fall’s Proposition 8 battle in California, highlighting religious-secular partnerships relevant to marriage equality.

Similarities in the report findings include:

  • Anti-LGBT ballot initiatives are often rooted in conservative religious rhetoric. Effective responses require faith voices and messages to counteract these claims in order to show religious diversity in support of marriage equality and disprove the notion that conservative religious voices are the sole guardians of morality on these issues.
  • Secular-religious partnerships are crucial to the success of legislative campaigns and to the broader goals of social justice and equal rights under the law for LGBT people.
  • Advocates should not disregard certain religious communities as impossible to win, nor overlook any “unlikely” allies, be it congregations in the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, or African-American churches. While some denominations may have official pronouncements against marriage equality and campaign against it, there are almost always members within that community who are open to other views.
  • A narrow political campaign frame hinders effective collaboration with religious communities. LGBT faith advocates and supporters must work within their denominations for full support of LGBT rights, including marriage equality and adoption by same-sex couples.
  • Media work that seriously considers the language and culture of religious communities is critical in order to quickly rebut inaccurate religious arguments and misleading statements from antiequality forces. Furthermore, the message of LGBT rights should be framed in a mainstream way that connects people to the issue. In addition, non-LGBT organizations, such as civil and human rights and faith groups, should be sought as campaign allies.
  • It is important to have both robust on-the-ground organization and an effective media campaign, especially in larger states where much of the battle is fought over the airwaves.

CAP and the Task Force released these findings in a joint press release call last Thursday that featured Rev. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop for New Hampshire. Bishop Robinson stressed that marriage equality is a justice issue and emphasized the importance of faith voices speaking out on behalf of marriage equality. He noted the importance of religious involvement in yesterday’s legislative victory for same-sex marriage in New Hampshire.

Joining Bishop Robinson, CAP’s Michigan report author Sally Steenland said that the findings of these two reports are highly relevant for future battles on marriage and family equality because these are deeply moral issues. “Faith voices have much to contribute to the debate and authentic religious-secular partnerships are essential to achieving human and civil rights for LGBT Americans,” she said.

Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, author of the California report, agreed. She stated that, “As secular and religious organizers, we all strive for a country whose mores, culture, and laws reflect the dreams of our forebears—life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and genuine justice for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex people and families. Although there yet remains uncertainty and unknowing between us, these shared visions and values provide us with a solid foundation upon which to build strong partnerships.”

Tom Kam, director of the Religion and Values Program at the Arcus Foundation, which funded the California report, commented that, “Collectively, these reports recognize the power of conservative religious voices to utilize their moral authority to influence public debate on LGBT equality. It is time to respond to these voices with similar authority, fully incorporating within the leadership of the LGBT movement and the public debate, the LGBT and allied religious leaders whose lives and voices speak the truth about our civil and moral equality.”

Download CAP’s report (pdf)

Download the introduction and summary (pdf)

Listen to today’s press call with Bishop V. Gene Robinson

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