The fate of Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban will soon be determined by the courts. In March, a judge struck the ban down, calling it unconstitutional. Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, immediately filed an appeal—and he’s recently attracted some new allies.Led by the Michigan Catholic Conference, the Thomas More Law Center, and other conservative Protestant denominations like the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a coalition of faith leaders have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in defense of the embattled ban. As the Detroit Free Press reports, coalition members explained their motivations at a recent press conference.“We believe in the Judeo-Christian conception on which America was founded upon,” said the Rev. Rader Johnson, who represents Greater Bibleway Temple in Bay City, Mich.
The Rev. Rex Evans of Freewill Baptist Church in Ypsilanti, Mich., echoed that belief and criticized backers of marriage equality as “small group of people trying to destroy the foundation” of the country. “We love everybody, but we don't love the [gay] lifestyle,” Evans said.
The coalition does represent a sizable portion of the state’s faith communities. The Michigan Catholic Conference alone represents over 2 million people; in its brief, it argues that the ban, which is the product of a popular referendum, should not “be cast aside in favor of the ascendant views of a currently popular minority.”The brief further argued that “traditional” marriage, which the Conference defines as marriage between a man and a woman, “by its nature is ordered towards our survival.”The coalition may sound powerful on paper, but it’s important to keep a few things in mind. For example, many Michigan Catholics disagree with the bishops on same-sex marriage and other issues.
Nor does this coalition speak for all people of faith. It’s largely composed of fundamentalist and ultra-Orthodox groups augmented by some African-American churches whose leaders have, sadly, embraced homophobia.
Other Christian denominations have come out against the ban, arguing that it doesn’t represent their beliefs.
“As a Christian pastor who holds marriage to be a sacred covenant, I have come to believe that this institution should be extended to committed gay and lesbian couples,” said the Rev. Bob Cornwall of Central Woodward Christian Church, which is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ.According to Cornwall, the ban unfairly restricts the rights of same-sex couples, as well as the rights of clergy who believe that their faith compels them to perform same-sex marriages. The latter argument is beginning to gain traction among mainline Protestant denominations. In North Carolina, the United Church of Christ has filed suit against the state’s same-sex marriage, on the basis that it violates their religious freedom. That state’s ban also makes it a misdemeanor for clergy to perform same-sex marriages, which sets it apart from other, similar restrictions on marriage equality.The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the case in coming weeks. And when its judges deliberate Michigan’s ban, they should do so with the Constitution, not a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, in mind. Johnson, Evans and their peers may believe the debunked notion that America is a Christian nation, and that extending civil rights to same-sex couples deviates from some mythological fundamentalist national character.But those beliefs don’t have any basis in fact, and they shouldn’t influence the court’s ruling. This coalition has failed utterly to present any secular argument against same-sex marriage. Instead, it’s repeated the Religious Right’s favorite talking points, as if saying a thing often, and with passion, can somehow make it true.That’s simply not how the world works—and it’s not how the law works, either. State bans on same-sex marriage are toppling across the country (Arkansas is the latest to join their number) because opponents of marriage equality have failed to present constitutional arguments to support their position.Dogma is fine for a church service; it makes a poor basis for public policy.