Faith, Family, and God – Who’s Religious Freedom?

By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist-

Marriage equality passed in New York despite strong and sometimes fierce religious opposition. Of course there were many in the religious community who also supported it. Although religious opponents failed to convince the governor and most state legislators of their inane positions, I’m still troubled that they were not challenged on one of the loudest arguments – religious freedom is threatened.

Although it isn’t much of an argument and maybe that’s why it wasn’t taken on to my satisfaction, I still think it should have been addressed directly and more forcefully. More important the LGBT and Searching community in other states still fighting for this civil right should also think about pursuing the issue.

As I listened to marriage opponents in New York talk of threats to religious freedom I thought: Faith groups wouldn’t lose their lucrative tax exempt status, religious school curriculums wouldn’t be rewritten by the Department of Education, and government can’t change church dogma, doctrine, and tradition. Nor could the government re-write prayers, censor religious publications, regulate times of worship, require same-sex blessings, or prohibit selling half tub Mary for the garden or plastic Jesus for the car dashboard likely made in a Southeast Asian sweatshop.

But for discussion purposes let’s assume that religious freedom is actually at stake. I hear no one, or perhaps I miss it, talk about the religious freedom of LGBT and Searching persons of faith. Aren’t these religious rights denied by prohibiting marriage equality? In addition, if stopping same-sex marriage protected religious freedom as understood by the Catholic leadership, why is it at the same time a denial of religious freedom for, as one example, the United Church of Christ (UCC)? In 2005, the UCC passed a resolution titled Equal Marriage Rights for All. As has often been the case the UCC has been a leader on social justice for literally centuries.

Does the official position of the Catholic Church trump the religious freedom of the UCC? Why isn’t this question being repeatedly asked in public every time a Catholic leader complains that their religious freedom is threatened? Are readers in Maine and Rhode Island getting my point?

What about individual persons of faith who support marriage quality other than the LGBT and Searching community? According to the Public Religion Research Institute 43% of Catholics polled support marriage equality and 31% prefer civil unions. A whopping 74% of Catholics polled support some type of legal recognition of same-sex unions. What about their religious freedom?

Does a group of old men in religious authority sashaying down the church aisle in very expensive dresses sometimes wearing jewelry that would make Liberace envious trump the personal beliefs of 74% of their parishioners? And by the way history has repeatedly shown that priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes have often been wrong. Don’t forget to publicly remind them of it with specific examples – colonialism was moral, women shouldn’t vote, the sun revolved around the earth, and slavery and segregation didn’t violate God’s law. Even purgatory is no more.

If you, friends, or allies of marriage equality in others states, like Maine or Rhode Island, are still fighting for marriage equality, please underscore the need to take a stand based on faith. God isn’t on anyone’s side. We’re all God’s children. We’re supposed to be on God’s side. The next time someone says their religious freedom is being threatened ask them about yours.

* Paul is an author, attorney, and a seminary trained, ordained priest in greater Albany, NY. He is a blogger at Paul is contributor to the book Homosexuality in the Orthodox Church, available on He may be reached at

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