Same-sex marriage became a reality in the United States in 2004 in the wake of a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court that it was required under the equal protection clause of the commonwealth' Constitution. Prior to 2012, same-sex marriage was also legalized in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Early in 2012, Washington State and Maryland both approved same-sex marriage laws, but neither took effect immediately and both were expected to be challenged in referendums.
In early May, North Carolina voted in large numbers for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages, partnerships and civil unions, becoming the 30th state in the country and the last in the South to include a prohibition on gay marriage in the state constitution. A thousand miles away, at a predominantly white, Lutheran church in Madison, Wis., where a rainbow banner greets churchgoers arriving for services, the Rev. Susan Schneider preached that gay men and lesbians were included when Jesus commanded his followers to love one another: “Knocking down the walls is what Jesus was after.”
Mr. Obama’s declaration last week that he supports same-sex marriage prompted ministers around the country to take to their pulpits on Sunday and preach on the issue. But in the clash over homosexuality, the battle lines do not simply pit ministers against secular advocates for gay rights. Religion is on both sides in this conflict. The battle is actually church versus church, minister versus minister, and Scripture versus Scripture.
The dividing lines are often unpredictable. There are black churches that welcome openly gay couples, and white churches that do not. Some Presbyterian churches hire openly gay clergy members, while others will not. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin, but there are Catholic priests who secretly bless gay unions.
And leaders in the United Methodist Church have been debating whether to ordain openly gay ministers for four decades, and voted again just this month to uphold their prohibition. But there are Methodist ministers who perform same-sex marriages in defiance of church rules who share the denomination with ministers who preach that America is going the way of Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality.
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