Religious Liberty and Same-Sex Marriage

In the wake of the passage of a California constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in that state, the Texas Faith blog from the Dallas Morning News tossed out this question to its group of panelists:

Is a compromise between religious liberty and gay civil rights regarding marriage possible – and if not, which of the two is more important?

Following is the response from the Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune, senior pastor at University Baptist Church in Austin, who is one of the blog’s panelists. He also is a member of the Texas Freedom Network’s board of directors.

First, a caveat: while I can discuss this question cognitively, I hurt for those who are injured by religious discrimination against LGBT persons. Indeed, such discrimination damages us all.

Democracy is a dynamic process. Both religious liberty and civil rights are core American values. Like other values, they have been in conflict from the beginning and the “compromise” between them continues to be worked out in the legislatures and courts.

Historically this value conflict has been healthy for both the church and state, forcing religious people to reconsider their theology and the state to protect the rights of the minority. Such legal conflict should not be feared; it is our process. The incivility, abuse, and violence which too often accompany such conflict we should avoid. Slavery, gender discrimination, and racial discrimination were once supported by the religious majority while the religious minority offered a prophetic voice pushing the state towards change. Each of these conflicts was different from the other in particulars. All continue to be worked out in a dynamic social, legal, and theological process.

For churches that support gay marriage a conflict already exists between religious liberty and civil rights. We can encourage gay congregants towards committed partnerships, but they lack the protection or support from the laws of the state our heterosexual congregants enjoy because of the legislative power of the majority. The time is here for the conflict between religious liberty and civil rights to be worked out with regard to LGBT persons in a way that treats them as equal citizens whose own religious liberty deserves protection. In the meantime, let all religious people have the courage of their convictions to follow their conscience and live with the social and legal consequences.

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