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Protecting Religious Liberty
from Clergy for Fairness
May 22, 2006


The following open letters describe the dangers to religious freedom inherent in a Constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.

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.


Joint Letter from National Religious Groups

Dear Senator:

As leaders representing many of the diverse perspectives on religion in our nation, we are writing to urge you to oppose passage of the “Federal Marriage Amendment.” Although we have differing opinions on rights for same-sex couples, we believe the Federal Marriage Amendment reflects a fundamental disregard for individual civil rights and ignores differences among our nation’s many religious traditions. It should be rejected.

Few decisions by religious bodies are more central than who can take part in important religious rituals or services, including marriage. Fortunately, the Constitution bars any court or legislature from requiring any religious institution or person to perform marriage ceremonies for anyone. Indeed, the Constitution protects houses of worship in their freedom to limit marriages on whatever theological grounds they choose. The First Amendment already protects religious organizations from governmental interference in such matters, and constitutional definitions of marriage therefore are unnecessary.

Regardless of judicial and legislative decisions defining the legal rights of gay couples, religious marriage will justly remain the prerogative of individual faith traditions in accordance with their doctrinal beliefs. And this is as it should be. It is not the task of our government and elected representatives to enshrine in our laws the religious point of view of any one faith. Rather, our government should dedicate itself to protecting the rights of all citizens and all faiths.

For over two hundred years, the Constitution has had no provision on marriage, the matter being left to the states and the teachings of various religious groups. Our nation’s founders adopted the First Amendment precisely because they foresaw the dangers posed by allowing government to have control over religious decisions. The religious freedom protected by the First Amendment has allowed religious practice and pluralism to flourish. Respecting the rights of those in the faith community who deem sacred text consistent with the blessing of same-sex relationships protects and ensures that freedom.

We are particularly concerned that this proposal to amend the Constitution would, for the first time, restrict the civil rights of millions of Americans. That concern alone merits rejection of the Federal Marriage Amendment. We strongly believe that Congress must continue to protect the nation’s fundamental religious freedoms and continue to protect our nation’s bedrock principle of respecting religious pluralism. Congress should soundly reject any attempt to enshrine into the Constitution a particular religious viewpoint on a matter of such fundamental religious importance.

Sincerely,

Alliance of Baptists
American Friends Service Committee (Quaker)
American Jewish Committee
Anti-Defamation League
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Christians for Justice Action
Disciples Justice Action Network
Episcopal Church, USA
Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quaker)
Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (Sikh)
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
National Council of Jewish Women
National Sikh Center
Metropolitan Community Churches
Protestant Justice Action
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE)
The Interfaith Alliance
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries
Women of Reform Judaism



Clergy for Fairness
Religious Leaders Opposed to the Federal Marriage Amendment
feedback@clergyforfairness.org


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