An Open Letter to the U.S. Senate from America’s Clergy|
The Honorable Bill Frist, M.D.|
Senate Majority Leader
S-230 Capitol Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Harry Reid|
Senate Minority Leader
S -221 Capitol Building
Washington D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Frist and Senator Reid:
As clergy from a broad spectrum of religious traditions we hold diverse views regarding marriage. However, we are united in our opposition to amending the U.S. Constitution to define marriage.
The Marriage Protection Amendment raises alarming constitutional concerns. We do not favor using the constitutional amendment process to resolve the divisive issues of the moment. Loading down the Constitution with such amendments weakens the enormous influence it holds as the key document that binds our nation together.
We are concerned that the Marriage Protection Amendment would mark the first time in history that an amendment to the Constitution would restrict the civil rights of an entire group of Americans. Misusing our nation’s most cherished document for this purpose would tarnish our proud tradition of expanding citizens’ rights by Constitutional amendment, a tradition long supported by America’s faith communities. These concerns alone merit rejection of the Marriage Protection Amendment.
We also share a serious concern that the proposed Marriage Protection Amendment would infringe on religious liberty.
Thoughtful people of faith can and do disagree on the issue of marriage. America’s many religious traditions reflect this diversity of opinion, as do we who sign this letter. But we respect the right of each religious group to decide, based on its own religious teachings, whether or not to sanction marriage of same-sex couples. It is surely not the federal government’s role to prefer one religious definition of marriage over another, much less to codify such a preference in the Constitution. To the contrary: the great contribution of our Constitution is to ensure religious liberty for all.
Some argue that a constitutional amendment is necessary to ensure that clergy and faith groups will never be forced to recognize marriages of same-sex couples against their will. This argument is unfounded. Such coercion is already expressly forbidden by the First Amendment’s “establishment” clause, its guarantee of the right to “free exercise” of religion, and the Supreme Court’s doctrine of religious autonomy that is rooted in both religion clauses. These, and only these, are all the protection of religious autonomy — and of religious marriage — our nation needs.
Our nation’s founders adopted the First Amendment precisely because they understood the dangers of allowing government to have control over religious doctrine and decisions. It is this commitment to religious freedom that has allowed religious practice and pluralism to flourish in America as nowhere else. If this freedom is to be maintained, we must respect the rights of faith communities to apply their own religious teachings and values to the issue of same-sex relationships. It is surely not the business of politicians to assert control over the doctrine and practice of our faith communities.
The Marriage Protection Amendment would dignify discrimination and undermine religious liberty. America’s religious communities do not support this amendment. As leaders of these communities, we urge you to vote against any attempt to pass this Amendment.