With New York moving closer to becoming the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage, Christians and other religious groups are making one thing clear – they’re not giving up without a fight.
Evangelicals, Jews and Catholics in the state are urgently mobilizing their communities to bring a stop to the legalization of gay marriage. Senators’ offices are being inundated with calls with the Senate expected to vote on the Marriage Equality Act Friday.
“There is a reason marriage is between a man and a woman. Mothers and fathers both contribute something unique to the rearing of children,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire, a Baptist minister and executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom.
McGuire said he believes the grassroots campaign is gaining traction among the thousands of evangelical churches in New York though they had little time to mobilize.
“This bill came out of nowhere during Holy Week and it surprised a lot of people,” he said. “Because time was short, we opted for a political, rather than educational approach.”
He also pointed out the irony of the bill’s timing. “It's interesting that the bill came forward right after Mother's Day, and is near a vote as Father's Day approaches. Society sets aside those days because society recognizes that mothers, fathers and marriage are important."
New York Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, who is openly gay, introduced the Marriage Equality Act in May, citing increasing support for gay marriage since 2009, when the state Senate defeated a similar bill by a wide margin.
Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed his bill this week after aggressively lobbying Democratic and Republican lawmakers to vote for the measure.
The Marriage Equality Act grants same-sex couples equal status under the law as well as the same rights, benefits and protections that married couples of the opposite sex receive.
Several senators on both sides of the political aisle have changed their votes from "No" to "Yes" since the issue was raised two years ago. This week, Republican Senators Sen. James S. Alesi and Roy J. McDonald announced that they would join 29 Democrats in supporting the bill. The measure needs 32 votes for approval.
McGuire commented on the political risks of a change of heart. “They may feel that some will look upon them in a newly favorable light, but losing the Conservative ballot line, and potentially being primaried, are very real political dangers in a state where the Republican Party is already weak."
Also placing pressure on senators to vote against the bill, Agudath Israel of New York, an organization representing Orthodox Jews, has distributed letters contending that the bill can potentially infringe on some citizens’ rights.
“If the bill becomes law, religious organizations and institutions that oppose same-sex marriage could be subject to legal attacks and severe penalties. Individuals (and the small businesses they own) that conscientiously object to same-gender marriage could also be labeled as unlawful ‘discriminators’ under state law and thus face lawsuits as well as a range of penalties,” the letter, which was drafted by several law professors, states.
Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of Public Affairs, maintains that elevating same-sex unions to the status of “marriage” would convey an unmistakable message that the state not only sanctions but endorses homosexual activity. At least one undecided senator reportedly expressed concern with the bill after receiving the Jewish organization’s letter.
Perhaps the most visible group trying to protect traditional marriage are the Catholics. Dennis Poust, communications director for the New York State Catholic Conference, said the Catholic Advocate Network, with 65,000 members, has been e-mailing and calling their senators and assemblymen for weeks and that their efforts have indeed stepped up this week.
Poust argues that marriage has always been defined as between a man and a woman and the government doesn’t have the authority to redefine the institution.
“Back in 2006, the Appeals Court, which is New York's highest court, held that there is no right to same-sex marriage in the New York state Constitution," he recalled. So anyone saying that a "No" vote denies a person their rights is misinformed.
"Marriage is a regulated privilege, and always has been. It is not a right," he opined.
He also feels that there is an anti-religious, anti-Catholic animus among some proponents of the bill. "There is an agenda afoot to silence the voice of religion in this state," he stated. “For example, by forcing Catholic charities to give up their adoption and foster care ministries."
Asked for some evidence of this agenda, he pointed to a recently passed law that forces Catholic organizations to pay for prescription contraception for employees, though such contraception is theologically unacceptable. A new bill currently being debated would potentially revoke the licenses of Catholic hospitals if they do not perform abortions.
Poust is also concerned about the lack of adequate religious liberty protections in the proposed law.
The measure includes provisions that exempt religious institutions and clergy from solemnizing a same-sex marriage or from providing their facilities for such ceremonies. But religious leaders don’t believe the provisions are sufficient.
Senate Republicans remain undecided on whether to allow a vote the gay marriage bill, though it is expected to take place this week before the legislative session ends on June 20.
Religious groups and family organizations, including the National Organization for Marriage, are urging followers not to stop their efforts to protect traditional marriage.