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Families First: GLBT Family Issues and Resources (February 2015): Religious Issues and Same-Sex Marriage

By Ellen Bosman

Religious Issues and Same-Sex Marriage

This section focuses on the point of view of Protestant Christian and Jewish religious groups. Many Christian groups would be pleased to see same-sex relationships remain “outlaw marriages.” However, libraries seeking to collect scholarly religious materials that oppose same-sex marriage may encounter difficulties. To illustrate, using the “search all” option in Books in Print for “Christianity” and the phrase “same-sex Marriage,” from 1992 to the present, produces twenty-six unique titles when duplicates and non-U.S. publications are removed. Limiting the same search by the audiences “scholarly and professional” or “college” produces one pertinent title. Similarly, searching WorldCat via the subject heading “Same-sex marriage—Religious aspects—Christianity” yields only a handful of titles. From among these limited results it appears that few scholarly titles devoted entirely to Christian opposition to same-sex marriage are available. Furthermore, in trying to identify such titles, libraries will need to look beyond the scholarly literature and standard reviewing sources. Social media tools, including the Internet and television, lead to major religious opposition leaders and groups that, in turn, may lead to relevant monographs. Consulting religious book reviews, awards lists, and publishers’ websites can be helpful. When consulting these sources, readers should keep in mind the issue of potential bias. Among the useful resources for identifying reviews, awards, and publishers is Ellen Bosman’s Resources for Congregational Libraries and Librarians.

Leading Christian works combating same-sex marriage include James Dobson’s previously mentioned Marriage under Fire; Glenn Stanton and Bill Maier’s Marriage on Trial; and Erwin Lutzer’s The Truth about Same-Sex Marriage. Each covers much the same ground, asserting a homosexual agenda that will destroy traditional families. These authors’ responses are rooted in a mixture of scripture, research, and personal anecdote. The books are not reviewed in mainstream periodicals, a circumstance that illustrates the need to consult the religious literature for reviews. Indeed, only a single review of one of these titles (Marriage on Trial) was located3. As attitudes toward same-sex marriage are increasingly more positive, the religious community gradually is producing more tolerant tomes. Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet’s Same-Sex Marriage supports traditional marriage, though the authors call upon Christians to engage in the debate with an understanding attitude. Directed toward churches and their memberships, this volume asks how the church can best respond to society’s shifts on this topic. Chapter twelve uses a question-and-answer format that would be helpful to undergraduates and non-Christians.

Soul searching and biblical interpretation have resulted in several books by ministers who have changed their views on same-sex marriage. The title of pastor-author Mark Achtemeier’s book, The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage, makes clear his stance. Seeing the obstacles that the church has placed on GLBT persons wishing to serve God, Achtemeier questions the legitimacy of the traditional prohibitions against homosexuality and, by extension, same-sex marriage. Not seeking to overthrow traditional marriage, he lays out a cogent path for applying biblical teachings regarding heterosexual marriage to same-sex marriage in this book, which is suitable for general readers.

Scholarly works refuting religious opposition to same-sex marriage are plentiful. An early example is Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by openly gay Yale professor John Boswell. He examined liturgical texts and concluded that something approximating what today would be called gay marriage was acceptable in the early Christian church. His position attracted the attention of both sides in the marriage debate and wove its way into popular culture with a reference in Gary Trudeau’s cartoon Doonesbury4. From the beginning, Boswell’s work was challenged because it applies present-day views on marriage to historical sources. Several scholars over the years have pursued similar lines of attack. However, the impact of this extensively researched and revolutionary volume—cited nearly 400 times according to Google Scholar—requires its presence in any library. Boswell’s research established the possibility of religious acceptance of same-sex unions, leading other authors to build on his work. Bernadette Brooten is one such researcher, who employs a wide range of resources, such as pagan rituals, spells, literature, sacred texts, and legal and medical treatises. She juxtaposes the pagan with the Christian responses to female homoeroticism. Like Boswell she sees a strong relationship between past religious and quasi-religious practices and Christian positions, going so far as to initially support all the biblical proscriptions against homosexuality. However, in the end she adopts the contemporary position regarding the inapplicability of ancient values in today’s society. Her book, Love between Women, which won the Lambda Literary and Publishing Triangle Awards and was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title (CH, Sep’97, 35-0227), is a well-researched work deserving shelf space.

Evangelical Christians David Myers, a professor at a religious college, and Letha Scanzoni, a widely published independent scholar, also discuss the religious and GLBT perspectives on marriage in What God Has Joined Together? Their support for the institution of marriage serves as the basis for their support of same-sex marriage. Library, publishing, and scholarly periodicals offer primarily positive opinions of this volume, while a religious periodical looks at the pros and cons. Placing Myers and Scanzoni in the library may, as reviewer Dana Fenton states in a journal article titled “Anything but Straight”5, “break down the polarization on this issue in the political, if not the religious arena.”

With few books devoted entirely to Jewish viewpoints on same-sex marriage, researchers seeking information on this topic are best served through the periodical literature and Internet resources. Alternatively, they may consult more general works about sex, marriage, gender, and ethics. An early condemnation of same-sex marriage appears in a 1974 Encyclopedia Judaica Year Book article by Norman Lamm, titled “Judaism and the Modern Attitude to Homosexuality.” It was subsequently reprinted in Maurice Lamm’s The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage. Four pages are devoted to “homosexual ‘marriage,’” with the term placed in quotation marks to demonstrate a contradiction in terms. The Jewish Way has been reprinted several times, each time with the same-sex marriage article. This indicates continuing interest in the topic and, in terms of usefulness to an academic collection, provides historical perspective. An equally broad but more contemporary review of the Jewish approach to marriage and the family is presented in Marriage, Sex, and Family in Judaism, edited by Michael Broyde and Michael Ausubel. Here, ten pages and a chapter on lesbian relationships and Jewish law are devoted to the question.

From within the GLBT Jewish community come two books—the Lambda-nominated Queer Jews, edited by David Shneer and Caryn Aviv, and Mentsh, edited by Angela Brown—containing three and four essays respectively. These essays range from a semi-scholarly one on identity and community in relation to same-sex marriage to one on an interfaith lesbian marriage. Encompassing both Christian and Jewish positions is Mark Jordan’s edited collection Authorizing Marriage?, in which several scholars turn their lenses on same-sex marriage. While the essays generally look to religion for support of same-sex marriage, several scholars turn the question around, asking what traditions support contemporary heterosexual marriages. Unique for questioning both types of marriages, this compilation of multiple views from both Judaism and Christianity is a singularly useful volume for academic libraries.

Readers interested in memoirs on religious experience related to same-sex marriage will appreciate two books, both written by ministers. Defying a denomination’s ban on same-sex marriage are two ministers, Jimmy Creech and Franklyn Schaefer. Creech began officiating marriage-like ceremonies for GLBT couples long before same-sex marriage was legal. His inspirational autobiography, Adam’s Gift, recounts the disciplinary actions he faced from his denomination. Schaefer found himself in Creech’s situation a decade later when he agreed to preside over his son’s wedding. His folksy parental-pastoral view is presented in Defrocked. Both books serve as examples of the consequences faced by clergy standing up for same-sex marriage.

Christian viewpoints on same-sex marriage are richly represented on the Internet, and the resources range from the official sites of various denominations to organizations specifically opposed to marriage equality. Examples included the websites of the National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family. Also available are reputable online periodicals such as Christianity Today. Given this variety, and the paucity of monographs on the Jewish perspective, this section concentrates on websites related to Judaism. The Berman Jewish Policy Archive is a portal to thousands of documents representative of all denominations of Judaism. Materials are gathered from journals, books, position papers, theses, book reviews, and many other genres. In this very user-friendly website, one may search by keywords (“same sex marriage” yields some eighty results) or use the advanced search to limit results. The website for The Institute for Judaism, Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity from Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion hosts several resources, notably a resource library with sections devoted to marriage and family. The website for Keshet, an organization that works for GLBT equality in all social arenas in the US, provides training materials, consulting services, and publications; additionally the site’s “Marriage Project” offers quick access to relevant documents. Joan Friedman supported same-sex marriage in her 1998 Position Paper in Favor of Rabbinic Officiation at Same-Sex Ceremonies. Available on the web, her scholarly examination uses biblical, rabbinic, and Jewish religious laws to explore the nature of marriage. 

Works Cited