Legalizing Gay: The Men and Women of Faith

HawkesWhen Troy Perry founded the MCC, he was one of the first to see a demand for a community of gay worshippers. Rev. Hawkes, Rev. Perry's and the MCC's Canadian champion, was so fed up with not being able to solemnize gay marriages in Toronto that in January 2001, he performed a same-sex wedding in defiance of the law. He was Canada's Gavin Newsom, leading a revolution that ended much more happily. After Rev. Hawkes performed the marriage, the Toronto city clerk's office refused to register it. The lawsuit that followed affirmed the marriage and eventually declared the common law definition of marriage as "invalid to the extent that it refers to “one man and one woman." (Halpern et al. v. The Attorney General of Canada), thus opening the door to full marriage equality in Ontario. And, the leaders of Glide have created one of the most open, progressive, and celebratory houses of worship that brings together all individuals in the name of peace, love, and equality. An important tenet of Glide's community belief is LGBT equality.

This leadership and bridge-building is of singular importance, second only to exercising power where it counts. To that end, religious groups from many faiths have come together to file amicus briefs against the Defense of Marriage Act and against Prop 8. In their brief in Gill v. OPM, the First Circuit case that recently declared DOMA unconstitutional, for example, we see the importance of religious dialogue and religious allies.

To persons of faith, DOMA's definition of valid marriages for the purposes of federal law discriminates against those faiths that would define marriage differently. Whereas Gill's attorneys and the Department of Justice argued that DOMA fails a constitutional test because it treads on powers traditionally and exclusively left to the states and because it treats similarly situated individuals simply because of their sexual orientation, the amicus brief from our religious allies argued that DOMA departed from the federal government's traditional neutrality among various religious definitions of marriage, enshrining one — a particularly conservative and arguably ahistorical Judeo-Christian definition — as the only federal definition of civil marriage. In this way, DOMA violates the Constitution's ban on the establishment of religion, or the favoring of one religious doctrine over another.

CrossThis novel legal argument complements the moral weight and access brought by religious allies. We often find that our quest for equality takes us across religious territory and we shy away from those engagement all too often. The campaign against Prop 8 in California was decried for its anemic religious outreach, as were other campaigns. Granted, many religious houses spout hateful invectives against the gay community; but, it is also liberal reticence to engage in the language of morality, values, and piety that push our leaders to give up finding religious allies before they even try. After all, the libertarian language of freedom and rights is the balliwick of progressives. We feel most comfortable when discussing our right to do this or our freedom from that. But, true equality and honor for gay persons requires more than that. It requires that we dive into the language of values and morality and prove that our lives and marriages are worthy of state recognition.

Here's why: If marriage and equality were truly only about rights and freedom, we would be content to take government out of our lives entirely, to not only let us love in private, but to get out of the business of consecrating marriages and protecting workers. Our cause is not to argue that government should leave us alone, but that we deserve full inclusion in a society that our government is there to protect and foster. To make that argument in a country whose institutions have strong Judeo-Christian roots requires us to prove the moral worth of gay persons, not the moral depravity of government.

Perhaps leaders like Perry, Hawkes, Moore, Williams, Greenberg, Kleinbaum, Potts, and Pierson can be beacons and bridge-builders. Perhaps we learn from their example and reach out to our friends of faith, making them essential allies in our quest for liberation.

Postscript: In full disclosure, I am not a religious person. I grew up in an observant Jewish home, the son of a clergyman, and my rather complicated relationship with organized religion has removed faith as a force in my life. What I write here today is not so much dependent on a deep understanding of God and religion, but rather on the role the language of faith can play in our quest for freedom.


Ari Ezra Waldman teaches at Brooklyn Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. His research focuses on technology, privacy, speech, and gay rights. Ari will be writing weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues. 

Follow Ari on Twitter at @ariezrawaldman.


  1. says

    My grandfather is a Baptist preacher, and he’s already offered to officiate if my boyfriend & I decide to get married. My grandparents love my guy. I’m not sure why some of you think all religious people are like Democrat Fred Phelps of Westboro, but you’re ignorant if that’s your impression.

  2. Chad says

    Religion is more than just a threat to gay equality, its a threat to society as a whole, education, science, women’s rights are all effected by Religion.

    I applaud the men and women you mention in your article, they are doing the right thing, but lets not pretend it has anything to do with faith if the God they believe in is the God of the Bible.

    I reject religion not as a gay man but, as a human being who sees a future for all of us that embraces rational thought, fact based policies and equality for everyone under the law.

    Religion has served its purpose and now it’s getting in the way.

  3. jlavoy says

    I’m a member of the clergy. I believe in God, and I also believe in science and reason. I believe that sometimes empiricism misses fundamental things. I have always advocated for equality, because I believe the real ‘sin’ is doing or believing something that causes harm to others or self- self-loathing, teen suicide, and all of these other traumatic things are evil that have been caused by reactionary political factions in a misguided church.

    Im a Moravian (protestant Christian). The basic premise of our corporate beliefs are that we are rational creatures, called to live inhope, love, and faith. Much of the church owes women, gays, and other non-priviliged people a sincere apology, and a change of ways.

    I know that many of our sisters and brothers are so hurt by the church. Im not asking you to join me or have the same beliefs that I do, but please- theistic religion isn’t the problem. Misguided, hateful people – who would be hateful and misguided with or without theistic religion- are the problem. Its our job t be who we are, the best of who we are, and know that their hearts will change.

  4. Mundus says

    May I suggest the inclusion of the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State whose amazing organization has done so much to highlight the illiberal excesses of the hyperactive Religious Right ?

  5. Mundus says

    May I suggest the inclusion of the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State whose amazing organization has done so much to highlight the illiberal excesses of the hyperactive Religious Right ?

  6. Randy says

    “he performed a same-sex wedding in defiance of the law”. Well, sort of. He performed a wedding by “publication of the banns” which was and is legal. The government discriminated by not recognizing the marriage, despite the law. In Ontario, church marriages done this way are recognized as civil marriages.

    Regarding “the language of values and morality”, that’s not properly the domain of the religious, who either get it from a book, or make it up as they go along. It’s properly the domain of scientists and philosophers, who actually find the facts and think through the implications. While I agree with you from a pragmatic standpoint, in the long term as a society we need to get away from religious ideas.

  7. Onnyjay says

    Please look into the writing of John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop of Newark NJ, who has for decades championed inclusion of GLBT persons and modernization of the church’s Bronze-age theology. His many books are eye-opening and easy to understand.

  8. Paul says

    Dallas, TX sadly has some of the biggest and meanest mega churches out there, and yes First Baptist of Dallas you top the list as far as I am concerned. That is why I have always remembered the kindness and love that was present at the MCC Cathedral of Hope back when we had Rev Elder Lillie Brock, and Rev Elder Dr. Mona West. Two great ladies who continue to shine.

  9. says

    What if Jesus Himself had been gay? After all, the gospels include four references to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Either He didn’t love the other 11 or He loved one of those men in a special way. “The Kairos” is a suspense novel based on that premise. The 5-star reviews on liken it to “The Da Vinci Code” and one suggests it has invented a new literary genre for fundamentalist Christians: religious horror.

  10. andrew says

    @Chad: You are absolutely right. Belief in the divine inspiration of the bible is the principal road block to human progress in the Western World. Belief in the Koran is a road block to progress in much of South Asia and North Africa.

  11. Jeff says

    @Chad @Andrew: Religious belief is not a road block to human progress. The Protestant Work Ethic is one of the principle reasons for Western Culture’s meteoric accumulation of wealth. Socially, religion has been the stalwart for charity and compassion for millennia. People will use anything to justify their beliefs, religion just happens to be a handy excuse. As a gay Christian, my beliefs inform my dedication to social justice, peace, and equality; as do many others. (See All-Saints Episcopal, Pasadena)
    There are good people, and there are bad people; both use the Bible (and anything else for that matter) for their own purposes. It’s not the book’s fault. Blame the broken world that reads it.

  12. jamal49 says

    @JEFF You need a reality check. Religious belief might not be the road block to human progress, but the three Abrahamic faiths–which I always refer to as the “devil children of Abraham–Judaism, Christianity and Islam ARE road blocks to human progress. In one form or the other since at least the 3rd or 4th century, Christianity, then Islam, then Rabbinic Judaism have definitely inflicted much woe and misery on this earth.

    Yes, people will use anything to justify their beliefs but it is precisely BECAUSE of religion that such justification is realized.

    I am so very happy that your beliefs inform your “dedication to social justice, peace, and equality”, but I guarantee you this: give me a moral atheist any day. Their dedication to social justice, peace and equality is much more real and sincere than your “dedication” could ever hope to be.

    Yes, there are good people and there are bad people in this world. But, those who rely on those infernal books of myths and cultural obfuscation disguised as piety–the Bible, the Torah and the Q’uran–are the evil that corrupts this world.

    History confirms these things. Your self-serving, self-righteous back-patting only demonstrates your own lack of spiritual humility in the face of such historical truths.

  13. DB says

    My denomination, the United Church of Christ, will be celebrating 40 years of ordaining openly gay pastors this weekend. Bill Johnson was the first openly gay pastor in the modern era in a major mainstream Christian church. He is a true hero. “In 1972, the United Church of Christ took a huge step that changed everything for many people. The Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ celebrated the ordination of William Johnson to the Christian ministry as the first openly gay person to be ordained. This sparked a social change in religious communities that has rippled throughout the world. The UCC has always been a leader in this area and the NCNC has been the leading conference in the UCC where acceptance of gay and lesbian people as full members and as clergy has taken place. St. John’s had a role in this, too (all be it a minor role): the Ecclesiastical Council of the Golden Gate Association that affirmed Bill for ordination met at St. John’s UCC, San Francisco. Members who remember those days recall the tension, the recognition of the historic nature of the decision facing the church, but most importantly, they remember the joy of doing the right thing!

    The intervening years have seen the UCC lead the way and have seen tremendous turmoil in the worldwide Christian church as people hide behind and confront old ideas about God’s love for all humankind. Now, there’s going to be a party! Those involved in this event in 1972 are gathering to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bill Johnson’s ordination. It is going to be a glorious event! Please visit
    Call, Courage and Conviction: Celebrating 40+ Years of LGBT Witness
    for detailed information on the schedule and the history of the original event. Join the party, join the people of God celebrating the historic witness and justice movement that flowers in the United Church of Christ!! The dates: June 16 and 17, 2012 The places: Pacific School of Religion and the Community UCC of San Carlos (the church that ordained Bill)”

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