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Religious liberties for some, but not for LGBT marriage in Michigan (Part 3)

Rainbow flag, often associated with the LGBT movement
User Marlith
Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM
LGBT rainbow flag flapping in the sun

Some Michigan legislators have pushed bills calling for religious liberties to be honored through law. But one person’s religious liberty might be another person’s religious suppression.

Much of the debate about same-sex marriage is centered in people’s religious beliefs. The religion with the most followers in Michigan is the Catholic Church. It opposes same-sex marriage.

“Marriage from the Catholic perspective is between one man and one woman because that promotes the creation, the procreation of life,” explained Thomas Hickson, Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy for theMichigan Catholic Conference

It should be noted that a survey of Michigan voters last year found the majority of people who identified themselves as Catholic approved of same-sex civil unions or marriage. But that’s not the Church’s official position.

Recently the Catholic Conference announced its advocacy priorities for the current legislative session.  Among the religious liberties it intends to defend is a 2004 amendment to the Michigan Constitution. That amendment defines marriage as between one woman and one man. It also bans recognition of similar unions- in other words Michigan cannot grant any of the rights or privileges of marriage to same-sex couples. No adoption rights. No survivor’s benefits. No health insurance for public employees.

But, some other religious organizations view same-sex marriage differently and feel gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people should be treated equally under the law.

Hickson says regardless, the Catholic Conference will work with the legislature to stop any challenges to the way things are now.

“For the most part, we’re not trying to interfere in other people’s way that they handle their religion. We would just like to protect how we handle our own faith-based entities.”

And the Catholic Conference has clout.

According to a survey by Inside Michigan Politics, the largest group of legislators is Roman Catholic; they account for one third of lawmakers.

Most of the rest of the legislators are Protestant and many of those denominations are divided about same-sex marriage or civil unions. More liberal members are in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples. Conservative members often are against it. Despite that, there are members of the clergy who officiate over vows between lesbian and gay couples. And once a year that happens at the capitol building.

(2008 commitment ceremony) "I now recognize and acknowledge your holy union and I pronounce you life partners. You may seal it with a kiss.”

Every year in Lansing during a gay pride festival, couples march to the state capitol to have their partnerships blessed.

“Congratulations and blessings to all of you. Thank you.”

The 'marriages' are not recognized legally in Michigan. But then legal marriages between same-sex couples in other states or other countries are also not recognized in Michigan.

And some clergy believe that’s a suppression of their religious liberties.

Reverend James Rhodenhiser is the Senior Pastor and Rector of St. Clare of Assisi Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor.

“I think that gay couples and families should be recognized and provided the same legal and moral and ethical privileges that heterosexuals presume and take for granted.”

Rhodenhiser says a growing number of clergy in many denominations are realizing that people’s desire to be in covenant of faithfulness and love is a reinforcement of the values of marriage. He says in no way is it a threat to the institution of marriage.

“So the religious liberty argument can be turned from a way to allow people to voluntarily restrict their own freedom to kind of holding everyone else hostage in the name of religious liberty. And, that is not what Jesus was ever about.”

So when religious liberties are defended by the faithful in the Michigan legislature, a growing number of clergy in Michigan are wondering whose religious liberties are being defended.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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