Freedom To Marry

The gay and non-gay partnership working to win marriage equality nationwide

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An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality

For Immediate Release
September 22, 2004

Cathy Renna, (212) 584-5000 ext. 319,
Simon Aronoff, (415) 901-0111 ext. 340,

Coalition of Faith Leaders and Theologians Declare Religious Support for Marriage Equality as Congress Prepares to Debate Anti-Gay Federal Marriage Amendment

(New York, NY) — As Congress prepares to vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would alter the Constitution to deny same-sex couples access to civil marriage, an unprecedented, diverse and high-profile coalition of faith leaders has released a powerful Open Letter in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples. Functioning under the umbrella nonprofit organization Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, the authors publicly affirmed a broad, faith-based rationale for supporting marriage equality for same-sex couples.

'We were called to join the public discussion on marriage equality,' said the Reverend Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute. "America needs to know that many faith leaders and theologians from diverse religious traditions strongly believe that all people have a God-given right to lead lives which fully express love, mutuality and commitment—including the right to marry."

With more than ten denominations now permitting their clergy to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, the Religious Institute's Open Letter represents a growing consensus of faith-based support for full inclusion of gay and lesbian couples in civil and religious marriage.

'We refute those who would use selected verses of scripture to condemn the marriage of gay and lesbian people,' said the Reverend Dr. Marvin Ellison who teaches Christian social ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary. "Contrary to this distortion of religious tradition, the overall message of the Bible neither commends a single marriage model nor commands all to marry, but rather calls for love and justice in all relationships."

The Open Letter challenges those who use their religion to justify discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Stating that the civil and religious values of marriage should be available to all people, the authors ask religious and civic leaders to promote good marriages based on responsibility, equity, and love, without restrictions based on the biological sex, procreative potential, or sexual orientation of the partners.

The Open Letter was developed at a colloquium of theologians sponsored by the Religious Institute and funded by Freedom to Marry.

"Throughout our nation's history, faith leaders have been found on both sides of civil rights debates, some calling our nation to equality and healing while others preach fear and division and appeal to the worst in their fellow human beings," said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry.

"The clergy signing this Open Letter affirm that it is immoral to discriminate in the right to marry, unjust to deny committed couples a legal commitment to protect their families, and uncharitable to remain silent in the face of assaults on gay people's common humanity."

Signing authors of the Open Letter represent theologians and ordained clergy from a broad range of diverse religious perspectives including Jewish, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Brethren, Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ, United Methodist and Unitarian Universalist traditions.

The creators of the Open Letter are Rabbi Dr. Rebecca Alpert, Temple University; the Rev. Steve Clapp, Christian Community; the Rev. Marvin Ellison, Bangor Theological Seminary; the Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield, Protestants for the Common Good; the Rev. Debra W. Haffner, Religious Institute; Dr. Mary Hunt, WATER; the Rev. Barbara Lundblad, Union Theological Seminary; the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, United Church of Christ Wider Church Ministries; and the Rev. Traci West, Drew University.

The Religious Institute is an ecumenical, interfaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society. More than 2250 religious leaders from more than 35 faith traditions endorse its Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing.

Note to Editors: The full text of "An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality" can be viewed here. Short bios on each author are also available. To book an interview with the Rev. Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute, or the Rev. Marvin Ellison of Bangor Theological Seminary, please call the press contacts listed above.

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Freedom to Marry is the gay and non-gay partnership working to win marriage equality nationwide. Launched in 2003, Freedom to Marry is headed by Evan Wolfson, nationally recognized as a central "architect of the marriage equality movement." Freedom to Marry guides and focuses this social justice movement on a nationwide level, serving as a strategy and support center for national, state, and local partners, a catalyst that drives and shapes the national debate on marriage equality, and an alliance-builder fostering support from non-gay allies.

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