KQED 9 will broadcast A Church Divided on Friday, Feb 15, at 7:30 p.m. The television documentary will take viewers to the United Methodist Church’s convention in Tampa, FL, where delegates from around the world gathered to decide the future of the church and its official policy on gays and lesbians. Below, show host and longtime Prop 8 reporter Scott Shafer writes on the topic of religion’s role in LGBT rights issues.

Religious beliefs, scripture and traditions are overtly at the heart of the United Methodist Church’s divisions over same-sex marriage. They’re also present, in somewhat subtler ways, in the legal conflicts over California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Both are now before the U.S. Supreme Court and will be heard next month, and both will ultimately be resolved within the evolving legal views on homosexuality of federal courts.

The Rev. Gordon Hutchins, a United Methodist minister, performs a wedding between Wayne and Michael Simonson in his church in Tacoma, WA. His state had legalized same-sex marriage last November, but he broke the laws of his church, which declare “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. (Adithya Sambamurthy/ Center for Investigative Reporting)
The Rev. Gordon Hutchins, a United Methodist minister, performs a same-sex wedding between Wayne and Michael Simonson in Tacoma, WA. The state legalized same-sex marriage last November, but the wedding broke the laws of the church. (Adithya Sambamurthy/ Center for Investigative Reporting)

From the perspective of proponents of Proposition 8, the federal district court case in 2010,  in which California’s same-sex marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional, was more about putting religion on trial than it was about LGBT rights. Attorneys challenging the measure showed video tapes of one proponent (Hak-Shing William Tam) testifying during pre-trial discovery that Prop. 8 “will cause states one-by-one to fall into Satan’s hands.”

Judge Vaughn Walker ultimately ruled that Prop. 8 violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law, and that the state has no rational basis for preventing same-sex couples from marrying.

“Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians,” he wrote. “The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.”

In current briefs filed with the Supreme Court in the Prop. 8 case (Hollingsworth v. Perry) the measure’s proponents downplay the religious aspect of their opposition to same-sex marriage. Instead they focus on procreation and childrearing as California’s rational basis for limiting marriage to one man and one woman. They site literature and research (disputed by Prop. 8 opponents) asserting that children do better when raised by one biological mother and father together.

A myriad of amicus briefs have been filed in support of Prop. 8 by religious organizations ranging from Catholics for the Common Good to the Coalition of African American Pastors. But most of these groups chose not to focus on the immorality of homosexuality.

In a brief filed on behalf of several religious groups, including the Mormon Church and the National Association of Evangelicals, attorneys argue “(T)hat Prop. 8 was supported by some religious voters or is in harmony with some religious views is constitutionally irrelevant.”

They continue, “Religious institutions and believers have played pivotal roles in virtually all the great political and social movements in American history – from the colonial settlement and Founding, to the ending of slavery to women’s voting rights, to the civil rights – and they properly have a voice in the great marriage debate in which our Nation is now engaged.”

In the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision (Lawrence v. Texas) striking down an anti-sodomy law in Texas, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, referred to how historic condemnation of homosexual conduct has “been shaped by religious beliefs, conceptions of right and acceptable behavior, and respect for traditional family.” He goes on to quote an earlier decision (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa v. Casey): “Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our moral code.”

Supporters of DOMA and Prop. 8 note that Lawrence referred to criminalizing private, consensual conduct between two adults. Prop. 8 and DOMA, they note, does not criminalize same-sex marriage, but rather upholds traditional laws on marriage.

But opponents of both laws hope Justice Kennedy and at least four of his colleagues will use Kennedy’s earlier opinions in Lawrence and another historic pro-gay rights decision — Romer v. Evans —  to find DOMA and Prop 8 in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Preview: A Church Divided

A Church Divided: Religion, Morality Never Far From Issue of LGBT Rights 14 February,2013Scott Shafer




  • The U.S. Supreme Court and possible Constitutional Amendments are the final arbitrates of the law in our system of government. That doesn’t mean the are inerrant and unchanging. It will be interesting to see what they decide this time.


Scott Shafer

Scott Shafer migrated to KQED in 1998 after extended stints in politics and government to host The California  Report. Now he covers those things and more as senior editor for KQED's Politics and Government Desk. When he's not asking questions you'll often find him in a pool playing water polo. Find him on Twitter @scottshafer

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