Today gay and transgender advocates and allies celebrate National Coming Out Day. Despite conventional wisdom that tends to see religion as opposing equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, in fact many religious leaders and lay people consider moral equality for gay and transgender people as key tenants of their faith.
In the past few years, Protestant denominations have been among those making significant progress in this area. Today, four of the seven-largest denominations allow the ordination of gay clergy and more people of faith than ever support marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Here are five ways in which religious communities and their leaders have come out in support of equality this year.
1. In May our nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination, Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to ordain openly gay clergy in committed relationships, reversing its ban on noncelibate gays and lesbians from church leadership. This past Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin, Scott Anderson was ordained as the denomination’s first openly gay minister.
2. While the United Methodist Church, the second-largest Christian denomination in the country, does not officially condone homosexuality, many in the church’s leadership have stood up for equality. This summer, 70 members of the Minnesota United Methodist Church clergy pledged to offer blessings to any “couple desiring Christian marriage.” Methodist clergy in New England, Illinois, and New York have signed similar statements in support of marriage for gay couples. And in Baltimore, Maryland, the United Methodist Church Conference voted to allow pastors to perform ceremonies and unions for same-sex couples in jurisdictions where the law approves it.
3. This year students on several Christian college campuses successfully organized to support gay and transgender students. Belmont University, Tennessee’s largest Christian-based university, officially recognized its first equality group, Bridge Builders. After several unsuccessful attempts, the student group gained recognition within the university as a pro-gay group that would “examine the intersection of Christian faith and LGBT related issues.” At Wheaton College this past weekend, Jose Vilanova organized an unofficial gathering with fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender alumni at the school’s homecoming weekend.
4. In June, New York became the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage, thereby doubling the U.S. population living in jurisdictions with marriage equality. Faith leaders were a large part of the coalition to pass this legislation and hundreds of congregations joined with the Empire State Pride Agenda to support equality from the pulpit. Following passage of the law, the Episcopal Bishop of Long Island called on the priests within his diocese with same-sex partners to wed their partners.
5. Following a spate of high-profile cases of gay and transgender youth being bullied, church leaders from several denominations denounced this behavior. Faith alliances such as Clergy Against Bullying condemned hateful religious rhetoric that can lead to bullying and called for tolerance and love for gay and transgender people. Church leaders such as Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church and Rev. Meg Riley from the Unitarian Universalist Association, joined the “It Gets Better” campaign to reassure gay and transgender youth that faith institutions will, too, get better.
On National Coming Out Day, it is heartening to see such support among religious communities for equal rights and moral equality for all Americans. The Public Religion Research Institute found earlier this year that majorities of non-Christian religiously affiliated Americans (67 percent), Catholics (54 percent), and white mainline Protestants (51 percent) favor marriage equality for everyone. In the years ahead this support may only continue to grow as young people are more accepting of gay and lesbian rights than their elders.
Eleni Towns is a Research Assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. For more on this initiative, please see its project page.