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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Clergy and Same-Sex Marriage

Our chapter on civic culture stresses that religious political activism is just as much a part of the left as the right. Samuel Freedman writes in The New York Times:
Early in the week that ended with New York enacting same-sex marriage, the Rev. Anna Taylor Sweringen stood in a hallway just outside the State Senate chambers. She wore her clerical collar and held a sign saying, “Equality now.” Around her gathered ministers and rabbis of similar sentiment, all in Albany to lobby and pray for the right of gay couples to wed.

The conventional — and erroneous — perception of the gay-marriage issue is that it pits secular forces against religious ones. From New York to California, wherever and whenever the battle has flared, news coverage has focused almost entirely on the religious groups who uniformly denounce it: Mormons, Roman Catholics, evangelical Christians and many Hispanic Pentecostals and African-American Protestants.

Yet the passage of same-sex marriage in New York last month, just two years after its defeat here, attests to the concerted, sustained efforts by liberal Christian and Jewish clergy to advocate for it in the language of faith, to counter the language of morality voiced by foes. In so doing, they provided a kind of political and theological cover to the moderate and conservative state senators who cast the vital swing votes for a 33-to-29 margin.

“It’s like affirmation that this is a spiritual issue, and that it’s integral to a person’s faith,” said Ms. Taylor Sweringen, 54, during an interview this week at her Brooklyn home. “How can you be a person of faith and not be where the issues of justice are being debated?”

Julian E. Zelizer observed the New York vote from his perspective as a history professor at Princeton, a former faculty member at the State University at Albany and the son of a Conservative Jewish rabbi.

“If religious support is fractured, and supporters of the legislation can point to clergy who are on their side,” he wrote in an e-mail, “then it’s easier to counteract the claim of religious conservatives who say there is only one answer to this question. As in previous examples, politicians draw on clergy to give themselves moral authority when taking on these kinds of social and cultural issues. We know more about how the right has done it, but liberals can do the same.”