Gay marriage pits church hierarchy against ordinary religious folk

At a Seattle synagogue, volunteers are running a phone bank urging voters to uphold Washington’s same-sex marriage law. In Maryland, Catholics are poised to preach from the pulpit opposing a similar initiative.

Voters in those states as well as Maine are less than two weeks from deciding whether to hand ballot-box victory to same- sex marriage proponents for the first time after more than a decade of defeat. Campaigns on both sides are targeting religious communities, where leaders holding on to centuries of opposition to homosexuality are often pitted against their congregants’ evolving attitudes toward gay nuptials…

Opposition to same-sex marriage from religious groups has helped block it at the polls. In 2008, Mormon and Catholic forces mobilized voters in California to halt court-sanctioned gay unions. Since then, six states have granted same-sex couples the right to wed, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to endorse the practice and some denominations have warmed to the idea.

In May, a committee of the Rabbinical Assembly, which sets rules for the Conservative Judaism, approved rituals for same- sex marriages. The Episcopal Church in July approved a liturgy for homosexual unions. In Presbyterian Christian churches, factions have pressed to recognize the vows, though the push was defeated by official assemblies this year.

And in a sign of a fading stigma, a group of Mormons marched at a gay-pride parade this year in Salt Lake City.

“The biggest breakthrough that I now hear from people who support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples is that it’s because of their faith, not in spite of it,” said Marvin Ellison, a professor of Christian ethics at the Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine and president of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination…

Still, homosexual marriage remains anathema among evangelical Christians and within the Catholic Church, the second-biggest denomination in the U.S. and a leader in efforts this year to defeat gay vows at the polls…

Poisonally, I believe the process of bringing full civil rights to the gay community will signal the beginning of the end of the unique position enjoyed by religion in the United States. Not that any portion of the battle is designed to advocate such, not that any of the leadership is by definition opposed to fundamentalist religions. Simply enough, these institutions will work themselves to death trying to prove how irrelevant they are to modern life, understanding or society.

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