The same book can provide different answers to different people. That has long been the case with one of the more controversial topics of our times—gay marriage. While legal recognition of gay couples is rapidly growing in popularity—Colorado legalized civil unions for gay couples this year and 13 states now recognize gay marriage—the topic still splits many Americans.
But even among religious leaders, gay marriage is hardly a black-and-white matter. The bulk of traditional Christian churches oppose giving gay couples equal treatment, but a growing number of faiths either support those couples, or simply don’t see gay marriage as a particularly troublesome matter.
The Catholic church has long opposed same-sex marriage. At Queen of Peace Catholic Church, Father Felix P. Medina-Algaba holds firm to that traditional stance. Father Felix sees the institution of marriage as being in crisis. About half of all marriages end in divorce, something Felix said has long undermined the institution. Add to that gay marriage, an idea that calls for redefining marriage.
“Gay marriage doesn’t help that crisis, it doesn’t strengthen the bond, doesn’t make the institution of marriage more solid,” he says. “It weakens it. Now marriage is not only the marriage of a man and woman, it’s any kind of union.”
A native of Spain, Father Felix has worked in the past with a church-run group called Courage, which counsels gays and lesbians, encouraging them not to act on their homosexual desires. The church welcomes gay and lesbian members, Felix says, but it asks them to suppress those desires and live out their sexuality in a way that doesn’t go against church teachings.
As it has with every issue in his life, Felix says his faith shaped his outlook on gay marriage. “We believe in a god who is love, who creates and says things out of love, and reveals what things are and tells us what things are and leads us and shows the way to live because of love.”
That god, Felix says, laid out a structure of marriage that requires one man and one woman, each at the very least open to the idea of having children.
“That god of love has created us as male and female and has established marriage. And out of love he has told us the best way to live,” he said. “And the best way to live in marriage is a man and a woman open to life.”
At Prairie Unitarian Universalist Church, leaders also see gay marriage through the prism of a much larger issue. But instead of looking at it in terms of the larger issue of marriage as an institution, the Rev. Jann Halloran sees it as a matter of justice.
“Our first principle is we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” the Reverend says.
For decades the church has advocated for gay rights, working closely with the gay community and unconditionally accepting gay members.
That inclusiveness is a central tenet for the church, and it extends well beyond gay and lesbian members of the congregation. The church doesn’t view any one religious text as being infallible, Jann says, so it has no problem disregarding those sections of the Bible that preach against homosexuality. Instead, the church takes people as they are.
“We try to address the justice needs of everyone,” she said.
For Debi Stafford, questions about gay marriage are far less important than questions about healthy and happy relationships.
She’s an active pastor, performing weddings and funerals, as well as closely working with couples at Aurora Mental Health. And the recent passage of civil unions has meant more gay couples seeking the types of counseling that were once reserved for heterosexual couples, which has brought Debi into contact with a host of gay couples in recent months.
Over time, Debi, a former Republican state lawmaker, has grown to a more moderate stance on gay marriage, one that doesn’t view the issue through a particularly religious lens.
“I don’t examine it from that heaven-and-hell philosophical perspective,” she said. “I really look at it as individual people.”
She said she wants all couples—gay or straight—to have the skills necessary for happy, healthy relationships.
“I try to use pastoral skills to support people to know what healthy relationships look like,” she said.
And since state law now recognizes civil unions, she said she doesn’t spend much time concerning herself with the larger constitutional questions surrounding gay marriage.
Growing Equality: US Census officials detail homosexual couples in Colorado and how they identify themselves
Female: 7,058 57%
Male: 5,366 43%
Same-Sex Couples Who Identify As Spouses
Female: 819 51%
Male: 799 49%
Same-Sex Couples Who Identify as Unmarried Partners
Female: 6,239 58%
Male 4,567 42%
By The Numbers: Changes in state law reflect a growing number of people identifying as part of a gay couple
792 Number of same-sex couples living in Aurora
6.5 Same-sex couples per 1,000 households in Aurora
562 US rank among cities with 50+ same-sex couples
Source: 2010 Census analysis by the Williams Institute of Law at the University of California