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Religion in American History: Civil Rights and Same Sex Marriage

June 1st, 2016

Wedding rings

There are clear parallels to be drawn between the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the fight for continued marriage equality today.

When the country was first founded after the rebellion of 13 colonies, many argue that the sentiment of the colonies was typically that each newly formed state should be able to control its own destiny while benefiting from the strength gained from a central federal government. The fight for “states’ rights” versus federal oversight has raged ever since, in a seemingly constant ebbing and flowing power struggle. One area in which this battle has seemed to always be in a constant state of flux is with regard to the Civil Rights Movement. Many are saying that the struggles now being fought by the LGBT community are akin to those of their predecessors who fought for racial and sex equality. It should be no wonder that comparisons are being made, however, as the opposition remains as steadfast in a position that is as old as this country — that their religion prevents the changes that are being sought.

The Constitution

There are arguably two guiding principles that have been used to determine our path forward as a country since the founding fathers put pen to paper and started a war; specifically, that the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land forever acting as our guide as the nation faces new challenges, and that we as Americans live in a free country where we are guaranteed the right to be free from governmental persecution for our beliefs and practices both religious and secular.  These two tenets have for most of our history been in harmony with one another, both offering the promise of protection and freedom to live however we each see fit. Occasionally throughout history, however, these elements of American determinism have clashed, creating opposing forces that are seemingly equal in power and justified righteousness.

The Power Struggle Continues

During the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, there were those who opposed marriages of mixed race. The reasons for the opposition included fiery citations of Scripture from the Bible that, they argued, showed God’s intent to “keep the races separate.” They used words like “abomination” and “eternal damnation” to provide support for their argument that the Constitution should be read in a way that prohibited such marriages. The Supreme Court of the United States had to intervene to settle the fight once and for all in its decision in Loving v. Virginia. One author has researched the similarities between that historic fight and the current religious opposition to gay marriage.

Fast-forward 50 years and the arguments are being resurrected, this time in defense of the opposition of marriages between same sex couples. The same words are being used to support the “family unit” but this time it is that a strong family unit consists of one male and one female, as opposed to parents of the same race. The same warnings are being launched against state and federal governments, which are attempting to provide equal rights for all citizens. Those warnings include prophecies of failure and moral fallout that if allowed to exist, same-sex marriages will result in the collapse of our nation and fast descent into immorality and “eternal damnation.”  

While the opposition to same-sex marriage is pulling from losing arguments made in a time long past, the future of religion in America may be what suffers most from their overuse of rhetoric and thinly veiled prejudice. Reports showing an overall decrease in Americans’ participation in organized religion may have just as more to do with the overuse of religion as a scare tactic than promotion of equality for all. As this argument continues to show up in our country’s discourse, the Universal Life Church will monitor it from both sides in order to preserve the right to religious freedom as outlined in the Constitution while also ensuring that all citizens are equally protected.

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