* The Catholic church Thursday launched a global campaign against
same-sex unions of any kind, calling them "gravely immoral."
* The United Church of Christ and Reform Judaism not only conduct
gay union ceremonies but ordain gay clergy.
* Presbyterians have voted to allow "holy union" ceremonies, but
not full-fledged weddings.
As gay rights issues gather momentum, major religious groups are
being forced to confront where they stand on the sensitive topics of
same-sex unions and clergy - and are often taking widely varied
For some, homosexuality has become the most divisive issue since
the ordination of women, and has threatened to split denominations
With US and Canadian courts in the process of redefining
homosexual rights, possibly to include marriage, churches now face
not only what it means to include gay and lesbian believers as full
participants but also how to respond to the potential redefinition
of an institution most consider the bedrock of society.
Many have backed the passage, in 37 states and Congress, of
"defense of marriage" acts, which define marriage as applying only
to a man and a woman; but some clergy support the bid for equal
President Bush spoke out against same-sex marriage on Wednesday,
saying further legal action might be needed beyond the defense acts,
implying he might support a constitutional amendment.
The acts could eventually be challenged on the basis of the
recent US Supreme Court decision upholding certain gay rights. The
top court in Massachusetts will soon decide if prohibiting gay
marriage is contrary to the state constitution. It would make it the
first high court in the US to do so.
"What happens in the public realm has an impact, but faith
communities make distinctions between what they believe faith
demands and what the law permits," says James Childs, head of a task
force on sexuality at Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
While mainline churches have long been debating the topics of
ordinations and same-sex unions, they're now taking on new urgency.
The tension over the issue will be on display over the next week in
Minneapolis, where the Episcopalians must take a stand on last
month's election of an openly gay man as the next bishop of New
Hampshire. They're also debating whether to create a rite of
blessing for unions. Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians are in
the throes of discussion on similar issues.
Other churches are taking harder lines. The Vatican's decision
Thursday to launch a global campaign against same-sex marriage
included guidelines for politicians and lay people - non-Catholics
included - on how to affect public opinion and legislative action.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in June adopted a resolution
"to oppose steadfastly" all efforts to validate same-sex unions.
"The church should set out a moral vision of what we believe God
has laid down as the ground rules for human society; we believe the
family is a divine institution and society ought to acknowledge its
special status," says Dr. Richard Land, an SBC leader. A federal
constitutional amendment is needed, he says, to prevent "judicial
elites from foisting their value system on the nation."
Churches support basic rights and civil liberties for homosexuals
and condemn violence and discrimination against them, but
traditional Christian doctrine has termed homosexual practice
incompatible with scripture.
The divide within churches is between conservatives, who feel the
authority of the Bible is at stake, and liberals, who say scriptural
references are misunderstood and that gays and lesbians deserve full
participation as children of God. Some say Bible passages on
homosexuality don't address the question of people in faithful,
"With the pace of change in society, more and more people are
coming forward asking about unions, seeking the blessing of their
church," says Sue Laurie of Reconciling Ministries Network, which
advocates more inclusion in the United Methodist Church. …