A closer behind-the-scenes look at gay rights advocates, who publicly support the New York vote to adopt gay marriage and are hoping it will galvanize the movement around the country, includes a shocking number of clergy and faith leaders.
The number of faith leaders who called on the New York State Senate to pass the marriage bill played a pivotal role in the passage of the new law, according to studies conducted by the Empire State Pride Agenda organization and other religious groups.
Researchers say hundreds of religious leaders have promoted legislation for homosexuals to have the right to marry since the 1960s.
However, opponents of same-sex marriage say they are going to ramp up their efforts to squash the spread of same-sex marriage bills.
In recent years, same-sex marriage has been a contentious subject within many religious groups in the U.S. However, gay marriage rights debates are nothing new and have been a national issue for at least 15 years.
Research shows there are at least 700 individual religious leaders who support gay marriage.
But, there are thousands more religious organizations and leaders who are opponents of the bill, according to Pew researchers.
Religious groups and churches pled with legislators to uphold marriage as a union between one man and one woman as the vote came before the Senate.
"What we've got to do is inform people, awaken people, and let them know this is not a time to be passive, just sitting back," said the Rev. Larry Tomczak of Sovereign Grace Ministries in Gaithersburg, Md., in a recent interview.
"We've got to be engaged in prayer and then in a compassionate way, we've got to communicate the truth, then be involved in the political process."
Most religious leaders who are actively opposing New York's bill believe a clear majority of Americans oppose gay marriage, but the problem is getting them to engage in the battle.
Tomczak said he will worry if those people won't engage, the war could be won by the minority who are passionate and vocal for same-sex marriage.
“It may be a shock to the American public that during the past few years, and even before, religious leaders in favor of gay marriage, have lobbied, written opinions, held public forums, and a host of other measures including financial support to sway lawmakers into approving the marriage bill,” said Dr. Michael Forge, a retired preacher from Boston, Ma.
“People think that it was mainly the gay community and the governor that pushed for the New York bill to go through but that is not true. There have been hundreds of signatures on petitions and believe it or not – they were all pastors and clergy.”
New York will be the sixth, and largest, state in the union to adopt gay marriage. Governor Cuomo recently signed the bill into law, which means it will take effect on July 24.
Legal analysts say since the bill was approved in New York, it is considered an important prize for advocates, because of the size of the state. New York City has also received international stature over the years as the birthplace of the gay rights movement.
Finding out that faith leaders support same-sex marriage legislation often prompts the question as to why someone of faith would be in favor of such a law.
Supporters of same-sex marriage within the religious community contend that “gay and lesbian couples should be treated no differently than their heterosexual counterparts and that they should be able to marry like anyone else.”
More than just supporting nondiscrimination and equal treatment, supporters say that “there are very practical reasons behind the fight for marriage equality,” according to researchers.
“They point out, for instance, that homosexual couples who have been together for years often find themselves without the basic rights and privileges that are currently enjoyed by heterosexual couples who legally marry – from the sharing of health and pension benefits to hospital visitation rights,” according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Same-sex supporters voice opinions that are in stark contrast to social conservatives and others who oppose same-sex unions.
Opponents of same-sex marriage unions hold the opinion that marriage between a man and a woman is the bedrock of a healthy society because it leads to stable families and, ultimately, to children who grow up to be productive adults.
Allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed, they argue, will “radically redefine marriage and further weaken it at a time when the institution is already in deep trouble due to high divorce rates and the significant number of out-of-wedlock births.”
Religious leaders against same-sex unions say giving gay couples the right to marry will ultimately lead to granting people in polygamous and other nontraditional relationships the right to marry as well.
The Catholic Church and evangelical Christian groups have played a leading role in public opposition to the gay marriage bill, while mainline Protestant churches and other religious groups wrestle with whether to ordain gay clergy and perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
“The ordination and marriage of gay persons has been a growing wedge between the socially liberal and conservative wings of the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, leading some conservative congregations and even whole dioceses to break away from their national churches,”
according to researchers.
The most recent list of clergy and faith leaders that support same-sex couples access to marriage rights in the church includes a number of denominations. Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, United Church of Christ, American Baptist, Reformed Church in America and Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism leaders have publicly supported the same-sex marriage bill.
Vocal supporters also include influential leaders like Bishop Prince Singh of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, Bishop Robert Rimbo of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary.
“This list represents a diverse group of faith traditions and congregations from all corners of our state. The leaders of these religious institutions understand the spiritual value of respecting all members of their community, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” said Alan Van Capelle the director of the Empire State Pride Agenda organization.
Religious leaders say the fight must go on to stop gay marriages from being adopted by the states because once something is law, it becomes normal to people and that is the wrong message.
"Law restrains certain things," said Lou Engle, founder of the organization, The Call, in a statement.
"Once law is removed it opens the floodgate, proliferates it and makes it commonplace. It mainstreams it into education and everything else. That's the difficulty we have with gay marriage. Marriage will probably be abandoned in the future if we go this way and that's not good for children," he said.
Individual leaders in the religious community have also stepped out publicly to tell their own story in an effort to support same-sex marriage legislation.
For many analysts, the Rev. Professor Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard University, played an important role in New York’s bill and other states that have adopted same-sex legislation.
Gomes “stunned the Harvard community and reluctantly made national news when he came out as a homosexual in 1991 in response to gay bashing on campus,” according to reports in the Harvard Gazette.
“I don’t like being the main exhibit, but this was an unusual set of circumstances, in that I felt I had a particular resource that nobody else there possessed,” he said in an interview before his recent death.
Gomes had widespread influence among lawmakers as he was regarded as one of America’s leading preachers and participated in the inaugurations of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
He was named Clergy of the Year by the organization Religion in American Life in 1998; in 1979 Time magazine called him “one of the seven most distinguished preachers in America.” He received 39 honorary degrees and was an Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge.
“I’m always seen as a black man and now I’m seen as a black gay man,” he told the Boston Herald.
“If you throw the other factors in there that make me peculiar and interesting, the Yankee part, the Republican part, the Harvard type and all that stuff confuses people who have to have a single stereotypical lens in order to assure themselves they have a grasp on reality.”
In his 1996 best-seller, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, Gomes, who stated that he remained celibate, laid out arguments how the Bible was misused to defend homophobia, racism, anti-semitism and sexism.
Dennis Poust of the New York State Catholic Conference said those in favor of same-sex marriage have been more vocal than those who are against it.
He said religious groups are reorganizing and regrouping after New York's vote. Faith leaders will be campaigning across the nation, creating social networking sites and soliciting Americans to rally opposition against gay marriage.
"I think that it's undeniable that the other side has done a better job of getting their message out," Poust said in a recent interview.
"We believe they have also done a really good job of portraying us as bigots and homophobes, which we absolutely, categorically reject."
He said those who oppose same-sex marriage simply believe marriage is between a man and a woman.
"That's not to say gay people can't be in love and have strong relationships," said Poust,
"But, it's a fundamentally different type of relationship because it's not a life-giving one. It doesn't have that potential, and so the state doesn't have the same interest in promoting it."
The same-sex marriage debate is not solely an American phenomenon. Many countries, especially in Europe, have grappled with the issue as well.
Since 2001, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa and Norway have legalized gay marriage.
Did you know?
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ignited a nationwide debate in late 2003 when it ruled that the state must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Almost overnight, same-sex marriage became a major national issue, pitting religious and social conservatives against gay-rights advocates and their allies. Over the next year, the ensuing battle over gay marriage could be heard in the halls of the U.S.
Congress, in dozens of state legislatures and in the rhetoric of election campaigns at the national and state level.
Source: Pew Research