Several Oklahoma religious leaders said it was vital for faith groups to weigh in on the state's same-sex marriage ban that is the subject of a court case making its way through the appeals process.
A coalition of religious organizations filed a 42-page brief Monday with a Denver-based court that is reviewing cases that could reverse gay-marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma. Attorneys for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote the brief, which was signed by officials of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
The coalition's “friend of the court” brief was one of several submitted Monday by groups, professors and state attorneys general supporting Utah and Oklahoma in their efforts to persuade the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse recent rulings by federal court judges.
In the brief, the coalition urged the court to uphold the same-sex marriage bans approved in Oklahoma and Utah.
“Our respective religious doctrines hold that marriage between a man and a woman is sanctioned by God as the right and best setting for bearing and raising children,” the brief said. “We believe that children, families, society, and our nation thrive best when husband-wife marriage is upheld and strengthened as a cherished, primary social institution.”
Kent Bowman, president of the Stillwater stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he supports the coalition's efforts to share a religious perspective with the courts.
“The church, while we respect and try to show kindness and love to all people, we have a very strong feeling about marriage defined as between a man and a woman as part of God's divine plan,” Bowman said.
A stake in the Mormon Church is similar to a Roman Catholic or Episcopal diocese in terms of congregations within certain geographical areas. Bowman, whose stake includes congregations in Edmond, Enid, Shawnee, Alva and Ponca City, said he found it “refreshing” that the faith groups joined together for the brief.
The Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, said it's critical that those making decisions about the same-sex marriage bans hear from faith groups who want to see them upheld.
“It is important for the church — and indeed, for anyone who recognizes it — to speak the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” Coakley said. “Among many other concerns, the push to redefine marriage threatens to leave society without any institution whatsoever that explicitly supports and protects natural childbearing as the only means of reproduction that does not reduce children to a mere commodity, a product to be manufactured in a lab to the specification of adults.”
Not everyone likes the idea of religion influencing the court's decision.
“Good for them — that's their belief. It's not mine. It also should not enter into the court's decision,” said the Rev. Matt Perkins, pastor of Cathedral of Hope OKC, a United Church of Christ congregation meeting at Mayflower Congregational Church UCC.
Perkins said he thinks the recent rulings overturning the same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional have looked at marriage from a civil rights perspective and not a religious perspective.
“They're saying you can't take that religious belief into consideration when you're looking at a function of the state,” he said.
Meanwhile, the coalition's brief also discussed the idea that opposing gay marriage makes one anti-gay, irrational or bigoted.
“The accusation is false and offensive,” the brief said. “It is intended to suppress rational dialogue and democratic conversation, to win by insult and intimidation rather than by reason, experience, and fact.”
In the brief, the group said they have no ill will toward same-sex couples, only “marriage-affirming religious beliefs,” supported by sociological facts, saying holding on to the man-woman definition of marriage is essential.
Bowman and Coakley shared similar sentiments.
“While we respect the right of other people to hold and embrace opinions and alternative lifestyles, we feel strongly that we should be respected for our own views,” Bowman said. “It should be a civil dialogue. This is not about hate. This is about our beliefs.”
Coakley said, “To uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman is not to attack the dignity of homosexual persons. In fact, the church's concern to ensure that children are not reduced to a commodity reinforces that we affirm the dignity of all human persons and believe that no one should be identified solely with secondary aspects of their personhood or considered as a means to an end. As Catholics, we encourage and love the whole person.”
Perkins scoffed at the idea that heterosexual couples make better parents than gay couples.
“Same-gender couples have been shown to do a fine job with it as well,” he said. “I can't speak for the entire United Church of Christ (denomination), but for my church, we lift up the love of two people, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.”
As the Utah and Oklahoma cases make their way through the appeals process, the Rev. Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said Southern Baptists in Oklahoma will be watching and praying about what the future holds for the state's same-gender marriage ban.
However, he said no matter what the appellate court rules, Oklahoma Baptists will uphold marriage between a man and a woman.
“Like other faith groups, Oklahoma Baptists have been watching, with great prayer and interest, the court rulings that have implications on marriage in America,” Jordan said. “At the same time, we recognize that no ruling — not even from the highest court in the land — can change the biblical, historical meaning of marriage, which we are determined to uphold, promote and defend.”
CONTRIBUTING: Associated Press