Religious Groups Enter Gay Marriage Showdown

Tuesday, 11 Mar 2014 12:46 PM

By Andrea Billups

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The legal spotlight on gay marriage is about to focus on Denver, where a federal appeals court will hear arguments in April from Utah and Oklahoma challenging judges who ruled in favor of such unions.

Voters in both states said no to gay marriage in 2004, but those votes were overturned by separate federal judges, sending the cases to the full 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear them separately, with Utah first on April 10 and Oklahoma on April 17.

Amicus briefs were filed by the dozens from religious organizations, corporations, and state attorneys general voicing different views of the legal issues.

Among those rising to support traditional marriage are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Southern Baptist Convention, and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

They argue in a joint amicus brief that there is no constitutional guarantee of marriage and say the nation is harmed by marriages that do not include a husband and wife.

"The inescapable truth is that only male-female relationships can create children. Children need their mothers and fathers. And society needs mothers and fathers to raise their children," the groups say in the brief.

"In millions of ministry settings each day, we see the benefits that married mother-father parenting brings to children. And we deal daily with the devastating effects of out-of-wedlock births, failed marriages, and the general decline of the venerable husband-wife marriage institution," the groups say.

Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, which has filed its own amicus brief in the case, told Newsmax that same-sex marriages ultimately harm society.

"We believe that traditional marriage is critically important to our society, and to deconstruct marriage into same-sex relationships has catastrophic consequences in many respects," Staver said. "It harms children . . . and says that kids don't need moms and dads.

"We know that is simply not true. We've all heard of the fatherless syndrome, and we see that here. We are institutionalizing fatherless and motherless homes," Staver said.

A group of well-known corporations, as well as a coalition of political conservatives, religious groups, and some state attorneys general, however, see the issue differently.

The companies have joined together to ask the appellate court to legalize same-sex marriages, noting that anything less goes against their company values and also impairs their ability to recruit top talent. The coalition includes Google and Facebook, the drug manufacturer Pfizer, and web auction site eBay.

"We recognize the value of diversity, and we want to do business in jurisdictions that similarly understand the need for a society that enables all married persons to live with pride in themselves and their unions," says a brief filed jointly on their behalf.

Also rising to defend gay marriage in the appeals are organizations representing Methodists, Unitarians, and Episcopalians, as well as a group of 20 Republican lawmakers and politicians who signed a 30-page amicus brief that noted that same-sex marriages tracked with values of liberty espoused by conservative heroes Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater.

They included two prominent former senators, Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Kansas' Nancy Kassebaum, along with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Kenneth Mehlman, who is gay and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Their brief calls on others to join what Reagan had envisioned as a "big tent." It also quoted Goldwater, who famously noted that Republicans should not "seek to lead anyone's life for him."

The group noted: "It is precisely because marriage is so important in producing and protecting strong and stable family structures that we do not agree that the government can rationally promote the goal of strengthening families by denying civil marriage to same-sex couples."

Writing the court in support of gay marriage also was a group of 14 state attorneys general.

"Oklahoma and Utah marriage laws single out same-sex couples and exclude them from the benefits and obligations of marriage. This exclusion is unconstitutional," the state officials said. "Denying gays and lesbians the fundamental right to wed their partners offends basic principles of due process and equal protection, and fails to advance any legitimate governmental interest."

Since the Supreme Court ruling in Windsor v. U.S., which struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, there have been decisions by six judges in the federal courts — all ruling in support of same-sex marriage.

The religious groups opposing same-sex marriage said the Windsor case does not require that states end their bans on gay marriage.

"Windsor emphatically did not create a right to same-sex marriage. Instead, it reaffirmed the states' authority to define marriage, invalidating DOMA as a 'federal intrusion' on the states' 'historic and essential authority to define the marital relation,'" the brief says.

Staver also called those court rulings a bad reading of the law.

"There is certainly no constitutional right to same-sex marriage in the constitution of any state and certainly not the U.S. Constitution. What ultimately will happen is if courts continue to go down this path and make up same-sex rights, then the legitimacy of the judiciary itself will be called into question," Staver said.

Seventeen states, as well as the District of Columbia, have made gay marriage legal.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released March 4 found that a record number of Americans — 59 percent — support gay marriage, while 34 percent oppose it. In addition, 50 percent think gay people have a constitutional right to marriage under the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, while 41 percent disagree.

A state poll taken in Ohio by Quinnipiac University turned up similar results, finding that 50 percent of Buckeye residents support gay marriage and 44 percent oppose it.

"Given that younger voters support same-sex marriage almost 3-1, it would seem to be just a matter of time," Quinnipiac assistant polling director Peter Brown said.

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