Anti-Gay NY Faith Leaders Campaign Against Marriage Equality

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday May 9, 2011

Anti-gay religious leaders in the state of New York have launched a fresh campaign against the rights of gay and lesbian families.

With equality-friendly Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushing hard to secure family parity for the state's same-sex couples and pro-marriage groups working together in a newly organized fashion, faith leaders opposed to full civil equality for gay and lesbian families have marshaled their forces in turn, the New York Times reported on May 5.

Leaders in the faith-based movement to block civil parity framed their agenda in aggressive terminology. Anti-gay activists describe the struggle of gay and lesbian families to gain full legal status as an attempt to "destroy the family," and paint their own efforts to block progress for sexual minorities and their families as a form of "defense" of marriage.

Rhetoric of that sort was employed by the head of evangelical organization New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, Rev. Jason J. McGuire, who told the New York Times, "Our pastors are fired up by the governor's assault on marriage."

Added McGuire, "We're already in gear."

Content at the group's website includes an array of anti-gay and anti-trans postings, including one titled "Stop the Bathroom Bill," a screed that mischaracterizes the experience of transgender people and reduces the trans struggle for equality to an implication that male sexual predators would welcome non-discrimination legislation as a means to enter women's restrooms for unsavory purposes, a tactic that has been used in recent years by opponents of trans non-discrimination measures.

"Any man could legally gain access to facilities reserved for women and girls simply by indicating, verbally or non-verbally, that he inwardly feels female at the moment," the posting's text tells readers.

Transgender individuals widely report identifying as the opposite sex at early ages, and say that the sense of being in the wrong kind of body persists despite social pressure. But trans individuals do not report transient or intermittent feelings of belonging to the opposite gender.

An April 29 posting at the site titled "The Consequences of Same-Sex Marriage," suggests that gays and lesbians choose their sexuality and could simply elect to be heterosexual. The text also declares that civil law should be written in a manner that reflects the group's religious convictions, regardless of whether those convictions are shared by the people whose lives will be impacted by anti-gay laws.

"There is no evidence that people are born with a 'gay gene' or that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic," the text states. "NYCF believes the definition of marriage is a moral issue, not one of civil rights."

Health authorities disagree. A wealth of scientific and medical evidence strongly indicates that sexuality is innate and, for most individuals, cannot be fundamentally altered. Moreover, reputable mental health professionals warn that so-called "reparative therapy" can do far more harm than good.

The site also characterizes gays and lesbians as sinners whose committed relationships are immoral.

"There can be no neutrality on moral issues," the site's text declares. "By legalizing 'same-sex marriage' the state would be approving that which God calls sin. Since God defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman, our government would in fact be approving a counterfeit to marriage. Just as counterfeit money impacts the value of real money; counterfeit marriage devalues authentic marriage."

The site does not specify how such a devaluing of marriage takes place, but it does hint that homosexuality is a pathological condition.

"This behavior is inherently destructive," the site's text intones, "and weakens the cultural importance of human sexuality's connection to both marriage and parenting."

Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan also echoed the claim that lifelong partnerships between spouses of the same gender are empty and without socially valid meaning. The New York Times reported that Dolan claimed during an appearance on "60 Minutes" that only relationships between mixed-gender couples could lead to "authentic marriage."

Moreover, the archbishop essentially compared same-sex marriage to incest.

"I love my mom, but I don't have the right to marry her," Dolan said.

Unlike evangelical churches, the Catholic Church teaches that gays and lesbians are born with innate sexual and romantic urges focused on members of the same gender. However, the Church also teaches that gays and lesbians are "disordered" due to those naturally occurring urges, and categorizes any sexual expression of affection between individuals of the same gender as "inherently evil."

A fresh wave of anti-gay sermons and church bulletins has already begun, the article said, with clerics encouraging parishioners to contact their representatives to demand that religious doctrine be reflected in civil law.

Though marriage exists at two levels--as both a religious sacrament and a civil contract, with not all civilly married couples undertaking the religious service--faith leaders characterized all marriage as belonging in the province of religion.

"This is a case where the state has entered an area that rightfully belongs to the church, not the other way around," claimed Empire Missionary Baptist Convention's Rev. William Gillison.

Anti-gay clerics "make a two-tiered argument," the New York Times reported. "First, they cite biblical injunctions against homosexuality."

In some--but not all--interpretations of scriptural passages, homosexual intimacy is condemned as an "abomination." Scripture also condemns divorce and adultery, marriage-related issues that have, to date, not prompted the same level of fervor and organization on the part of churches and clerics as the marriage equality issue.

"Second, they warn that social services, like foster care and adoption, provided by religiously sponsored charities could be endangered by the legalization of same-sex marriage," the article continues.

The Catholic church chose to abandon it mission of providing adoption services in places like Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., where marriage equality is legal, rather than risk being compelled to place needy children in stable, loving homes headed by two adults of the same gender.

However, the issue has been framed as a matter of "religious liberty," with anti-gay activists insisting that any gains made by same-sex individuals and their families will erode the rights of the faithful to denounce and reject gays.

Non-Christian faiths also say that they worry they will lose the right to freedom of religious expression. One lobbyist who represents the interests of Orthodox Jewish clerics, Nathan Diament, told the Times, "Aside from the moral issues, their major concern is religious liberty."

But marriage equality would not change the status quo, supporters of family parity say. The article cited State Senator Liz Krueger, a pro-marriage legislator, who pointed out that anti-discrimination laws are already in place, and granting same-sex families legal equality would not change that fact. Krueger also suggested that gays and lesbians were as unwilling as the religious charities that viewed that as undesirable to engage their services.

"My guess is that most same-sex couples skip over the Catholic adoption services in the Yellow Pages," Krueger said.

Another religious foe of marriage equality, State Sen. and Pentecostal minster Rubén Díaz, Sr., said that he planned to organize another rally, similar to the one he put together in 2009, to oppose civil parity for gay and lesbian families.

Díaz claimed to have gotten death threats for his opposition to marriage equality, the article said. Meantime, anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage was making threats of its own against New York state legislators.

"We spent over half a million dollars in New York," boasted the president of NOM, Brian Brown of the national group's involvement in the state's highly publicized handling of the issue two years ago, "and we're ready to spend that and more this time. We are willing to spend a million against any Republican senator who votes for gay marriage."

NOM funded a successful 2009 campaign to recall marriage equality at the ballot box in Maine, and was also a major player in the bitterly divisive 2008 campaign in California to rescind the then-existing right of gay and lesbian families in that state to marry. California voters, told that young children would be taught about homosexuality in schools unless marriage equality was revoked, narrowly approved Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution in a manner that yanked marriage rights away from same-sex couples.

Proposition 8 was later found to be unconstitutional in a federal court challenge. That verdict is now under appeal.

The efforts of anti-gay religious groups seemed to be making headway among lawmakers. State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., told the Times that his office had received around 400 messages, mostly in opposition to marriage parity for gay and lesbian families.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.