For most gay Americans in the 20th century, the church was a place of pain. It cast them out and called them evil. It cleaved them from their families. It condemned their love and denied their souls. In 2004, a president was elected when religious voters surged from their pews to vote against the legal recognition of gay relationships. When it came to gay rights, religion was the enemy.
A decade later, the story is very different. Congregations across the country increasingly accept, nurture, and even marry their gay brethren. Polls show majorities of major Christian denominations -- including American Catholics, despite their church's staunch opposition -- support legal gay marriage. ...
The votes, too, are going differently these days.Ballot measures, state legislatures, and Supreme Court decisions testify to a new public consensus on gay marriage, the political issue that currently serves as the chief proxy for attitudes toward gay rights and acceptance....
Gradually, and largely below the radar, religious Americans have powered this momentous shift. ... "This debate has gone from a debate between nonreligious and religious Americans to a debate dividing religious Americans," said Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, who has closely tracked the evolution in public opinion.
This change -- from most religious Americans opposing gay rights to many of them supporting it -- didn't happen by accident. It is the fruit of an aggressive campaign by a determined gay-rights movement that realized, particularly in the wake of the 2004 elections, that you cannot win politically in America if you are arguing against religious faith. It is a recent development -- Jones dates the "tipping point" to 2011 -- and it has helped marginalize gay-marriage opponents by discrediting their most powerful claim: that they speak for the religious community.
Yet the media still tries to portray this as a religion-vs-gay rights argument, and lets the opponents of equality do the same. It's hugely important that people of faith are speaking out as supporters not despite, but because of their faith.
The article traces some of this new energy to the deliberate efforts in New York to build alliances including people of faith.
All four of the successful state campaigns for gay-marriage ballot measures last fall -- Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington -- had dedicated organizers working in the faith community. Often they were greeted, like van Capelle, by an outpouring of pent-up support. Campaigners who invited faith leaders to an organizing meeting in Minneapolis in 2011 were stunned when the turnout of 700 more than tripled their expectations, packing a Methodist church and spilling out the doors. By the end, the campaign had the support of all six of the state's Lutheran bishops.
Central to this outreach has been a message that emphasizes religious teachings about compassion, tolerance, and humility. Religious leaders and followers want to feel that they're not choosing politics over religion but bringing the two into alignment.
The article argues that some of the Big Fish in the conservative Christian mainstream are reading the tea leaves, so to speak.
Conservative religious leaders like Moore and Daly -- and indeed Pope Francis -- aren't backing down from their opposition to gay marriage. But the change in tone is progress from gay activists' point of view. The gay-rights movement has sought to assuage faith leaders' concerns by building guarantees into legislation that no church will be forced to perform a marriage it doesn't approve. Federal nondiscrimination legislation currently being considered by the Senate has a broad religious-liberty clause that exempts all churches and religious nonprofits. These concessions have been hard to swallow for some in the gay activist community, but most see them as a necessary compromise.
Compromise is a dying art, but important. I once had a twitter argument with a passionately opposed Mormon who finally admitted his biggest fear was that his church would be forced to marry gay people. That's not the first time I've heard it. We really do need to explain that religions are as free as they like to discriminate within their churches/mosques/synagogues. They just can't do it outside.
For faith leaders and LGBT activists alike, a reconciling, gradual but profound, is under way. "People have been told for decades that homosexuality is a sin, but they know really good LGBT people, and they don't know what to do," said Groves of the Human Rights Campaign. "We need to be going into those conservative religious spaces with messages like the pope -- who am I to judge? Once people see the humanity of LGBT people, it is very hard to hold onto a vitriolic stance."
On the other hand, some of the Professional Opponents are becoming even more strident and vitriolic. Witness the National Organization for (straight-only) marriage, which now supports ex-gay therapy, opposes integration in the military, and denounces civil unions.
Still, a multi-cultural society requires that we figure out how to live together. Some people will never support equality. Heck, some people still don't support inter-racial marriage. But we still have to figure out how to live together.