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Obama's Same-Sex Marriage Announcement: A Victory for Religion

Today's post is from Jay Michaelson, author of God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality. Michaelson is a writer, scholar, and activist whose work addresses the intersections of religion, sexuality, spirituality, and law. 

This post originally appeared at Huffington Post


I have to tell you that over the course of several years, as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed, monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that "don't ask, don't tell" is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

Angry voices on the so-called "Christian right" are already screaming about President Obama's "war on religion," but today's announcement regarding same-sex marriage was actually an inspiring religious pronouncement. Why?

0147First, because it came one day after one of the nastiest, meanest anti-gay votes in recent memory, North Carolina's "no families but mine" Amendment 1. It offers a studied contrast between humanity and dogmatism, inclusion and nastiness. Religious and non-religious people alike can now see two very different ways of approaching how we ought to live with one another, one welcoming and the other cruel, one open to the experience of others and the other with its hands over its ears, one focused on compassion and the other focused on exclusion. Who Would Jesus Discriminate against, anyway?

Second, Obama's statement is a model of religious reasoning. Jesus said in the Sermon of the Mount, "By your fruits, you shall know them" (Matthew 7:16). This, not some obscure lines in Leviticus or Corinthians, is the real religious message regarding gays and lesbians, and it is the way Obama made up his mind on this issue. Over time, he said, he has come to understand the truth of same-sex couples, that they are as capable of commitment, love, and sanctity as opposite-sex couples, and that it is an injustice to deny the benefits of marriage to gay people.

Those are religious values; they are exactly what the Sermon on the Mount preaches, as well. "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit," Jesus said (Matthew 7:18). Well, let's apply that method to the question of same-sex marriage. Does it produce bad fruit or good fruit? Good fruit, as Obama himself has come to understand. Therefore, it, too, is good.

This process is about the growth of individual conscience: I used to feel one way, but over time, in a careful and long process of discernment, I come to feel a different way. And look at the evidence Obama cited: People on his staff, friends, and family -- these, not abstract principles -- are what shifted his heart and mind. Thinking of his personal responsibility for the lives of soldiers serving our country -- this, not some policy point -- is the data that weighs into questions of right and wrong.

Affirming the equality of LGBT people, including same-sex marriage, is not a choice between religion and some other values, between God and gay. It is, on the contrary, a direct consequence of taking religion seriously. It's easy to sit back comfortably with one's assumptions and prejudices. What's harder, and thus what really counts, religiously speaking, is to be open to what other people and their experiences have to teach us. That's how we can fulfill the injunction of Matthew 7:16, and it's exactly what the president showed us today.

White House photo from Bigstock.