Supreme Court rulings favor gay-marriage advocates

(Photo by peetje2 under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic licence)

The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt two major setbacks to gay-marriage opponents and has given a further boost to those who support legal recognition of same-sex unions. The verdicts are drawing quick responses from religious voices on both sides and they have reignited the debate over morality and same-sex marriage.

In the June 26 rulings, a divided court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and said those who challenged a ruling overturning California’s gay marriage ban, known as Prop 8, had no standing to appeal. That effectively opened the door to allowing gay marriage in California, though it would have no immediate effect in states that have not legalized same-sex marriage.

At this point, same-sex marriage seems increasingly ascendant in the court of public opinion, with polls showing a rapid rise in acceptance and particularly strong support among younger generations. Indeed, in recent months, as the Supreme Court justices have been deliberating, three more states have legalized gay marriage.

The public is even more accepting of gays and lesbians beyond the issue of civil rights. In May, NBA player Jason Collins became the first male athlete in a major professional sport to come out as gay and he was widely embraced for his openness. Similarly, the Boy Scouts of America in May changed their long-standing policy to allow boys who are gay to be Scouts, though the organization stopped short of allowing gay Scout leaders. In another development, Lutherans in California in May elected the first openly gay bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Supreme Court cases will provide a rallying point for both sides in the debate, and this edition of ReligionLink provides resources for reporters covering the court cases and their implications for both the civil and religious realms of society.

Update: Oct. 7, 2014

On Oct. 6, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from five states regarding laws that legalized same-sex marriage, increasing the number of states that allow gay marriage from 19 to 30:

  • Read an Oct. 7, 2014, New York Times story about the court’s decision not to take up same-sex marriage appeals.
  • View a series of USA Today maps that shows the states that currently allow same-sex marriage, those that ban it and ones with pending appeals.

Meanwhile, the United Methodist Church, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, continues to wrestle with issues of same-sex marriage and gay clergy:

  • Read an Oct. 6, 2014, Religion News Service story  about 36 UMC pastors who faced church discipline for presiding at a single same-sex marriage.
  • Read a May 13, 2014, Religion News Service story about the impasse in the church over same-sex marriage.

On Oct. 2, 2014, GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign released a resource guide for journalists covering LGBT issues during the midterm elections to help them “stop conflating bigotry with religious faith.”


General resources


More news articles

Polls and surveys

Where things stand

Same-sex marriage

Nineteen states (plus the District of Columbia) allow same-sex marriagesMassachusetts, California, Hawaii, ConnecticutIowaVermont, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, WashingtonMarylandMaine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode IslandDelaware and Minnesota. Massachusetts was first, permitting such unions beginning May 17, 2004. The state Legislature acted to allow the marriages after a November 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that declared the state’s marriage law discriminatory.

California briefly allowed same-sex marriages in 2008 but stopped doing so after voters approved the state constitutional amendment known as Proposition 8 later that year. A federal district judge in 2010 ruled that the amendment, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection provisions. An appeals court panel also deemed the measure unconstitutional, setting the stage for the Supreme Court’s consideration of the case.

Civil unions and domestic partnerships

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures:

  • Civil unions, which typically provide the same state spousal rights and duties as traditional marriage, have been approved in Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Colorado. Colorado is the latest state to join this group. Its new law took effect May 1, 2013. (Civil unions will not be an option in Delaware and Rhode Island once those states’ new same-sex marriage laws take effect, in July and August 2013, respectively.)
  • Domestic partnerships granting nearly all state spousal rights to unmarried couples are permitted in California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington.
  • Domestic partnerships granting only some state spousal rights to unmarried couples can be entered into in Hawaii, Maine, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

State constitutional amendments/ legislation

More than three dozen states have statutes and/or constitutional provisions that effectively ban same-sex marriage. Marriage alternatives – civil unions or domestic partnerships – are accepted in some of these states.

Here are resources for checking on action on amendments and legislation throughout the nation.


Federal and state courts regularly consider cases involving same-sex marriages or civil unions, even if those legal statuses aren’t conferred in their states. For example, in 2008, before New York allowed same-sex marriage, a five-judge appellate panel in that state said that two lesbians who had married in Canada were entitled to legal recognition of the relationship by the state of New York. One of the women was suing over denial of health-care benefits to the other.

Several websites track action in the courts:


In 1996, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act permitting states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The law prevents the U.S. government from extending federal benefits to couples in same-sex marriages. (Read Wikipedia’s backgrounder.)

Bills aimed at repealing DOMA have been introduced by members of Congress in 2009 and 2011, and in February 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would no longer defend the portion of the act that blocks federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The U.S. House of Representatives, led by Speaker John Boehner, responded by authorizing its legal counsel to defend DOMA since the Justice Department would not.

Efforts were made in 2004 and 2006 to amend the federal Constitution, based in part on fears that a mere statute could be found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. An amendment would have to be approved by 67 senators and two-thirds of the House of Representatives, then be ratified in at least 38 states. So far, supporters have not been able to garner the needed congressional support. Read a history of these efforts at and background with external links at Wikipedia.

Faith groups' policies

Below is a snapshot of where notable religious denominations stand on gay marriage.

For general information, see:


Evangelical Protestants

  • Southern Baptist Convention: The nation’s largest Protestant denomination says in its “basic beliefs” that “Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”
  • American Baptist Churches USA: In November 2005, the national body declared that “God’s design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman” and that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching.” The board of the American Baptist Churches Pacific Southwest region voted to separate from the parent body, however, over what was described as the larger group’s refusal to deal with lax policies of some congregations toward homosexuality. Read a May 18, 2006, Baptist Press article about the situation.

Mainline Protestants

  • United Church of Christ: The 25th biennial General Synod in July 2005 approved an “equal marriage rights for all” resolution, making it the first mainline Christian denomination to endorse gay marriage.
  • United Methodist Church: The second-largest Protestant denomination in the country and the largest mainline Protestant denomination rejected a proposal in 2008 to become more inclusive of gays and lesbians. An attempt at the 2012 General Conference likewise was rejected. The church’s Book of Discipline says, “We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.”
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: In 2009, a churchwide assembly adopted a social statement on human sexuality that included a discussion of committed same-sex relationships but no consensus about them, saying, “We do not have agreement on whether this church should honor these relationships and uplift, shelter, and protect them or on precisely how it is appropriate to do so.” The assembly also adopted a resolution, though, stating “that the ELCA should commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable couples who wish to have lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”
  • Episcopal Church: The denomination has been in turmoil since Gene Robinson was elected as its first openly gay bishop in 2003. Its constitution defines marriage as “a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong.” General Convention 2009 Resolution C056, however, says that bishops, “particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church.” In light of that, some bishops have given their priests permission to solemnize same-sex marriages. In 2012, the church provisionally approved a liturgy for blessing same-sex unions, but the rite is not called marriage.


  • Church of God in Christ: In 2004 this African-American denomination issued a proclamation on marriage, saying “we declare our opposition to any deviation from traditional marriages of male and female.”


  • Unitarian Universalist Association: It passed a resolution in 1996 supporting the legal right to same-sex marriage and urging UUA congregations to bless such marriages. The church has been active at the state and national levels in efforts to allow gay marriage.
  • Metropolitan Community Church: The church, whose motto is “sexuality and spirituality rejoined,” welcomes gays, lesbians, transgendered people and bisexuals; encourages the blessing of same-sex marriages; and supports marriage-equality efforts.
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: It has declared that allowing same-sex marriage would “make light of the very serious and sacred foundation of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of families.”


  • Reform Judaism: Reform Judaism, the largest of the three main branches of Judaism in America, was the first to allow same-sex commitment ceremonies. In 2000 the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the organized rabbinate of Reform Judaism, approved a resolution allowing rabbis to officiate at gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies.
  • Conservative Judaism: In 2006, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism issued a ruling allowing rabbis and synagogues to ordain gay rabbis and perform or host same-sex commitment ceremonies. Rabbis and synagogues are also allowed to continue to not permit such ceremonies or ordain or hire gay rabbis. See a Dec. 7, 2006, Washington Post article about the vote and a July 3, 2007, Forward article about how synagogues were adapting to the new rule.
  • Orthodox Judaism: Opposes same-sex marriage. The Rabbinical Council of America was one of several Orthodox groups reaffirming that stand in May 2011, saying “the Orthodox Jewish world speaks with one voice, loud and clear.” The Orthodox Union issued a statement in June 2011 about New York’s decision to legalize gay marriage, expressing disagreement with the action but appreciation that the law protects religious liberties.


  • Islam prohibits same-sex marriage.

Advocacy groups and others involved in the debate

Favoring same-sex marriage

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics

    The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 pediatricians committed to the optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.

    It announced in March 2013 that it supports same-sex marriage to promote the well-being of children of lesbians and gays.

  • Interfaith Alliance

    The Interfaith Alliance is the national nonpartisan advocacy voice of the interfaith movement. Media inquiries can be submitted through a form on the alliance’s website.

    It praised President Barack Obama when he announced his support for same-sex marriage in May 2012.

    Contact: 202-265-3000.
  • Secular Coalition for America

    The Secular Coalition for America was founded in 2005 as the “only organization in the nation whose primary purpose is lobbying Congress on behalf of atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans.” The SCA is endorsed and supported by numerous secularist groups.

    It opposes theological definitions of marriage and wants the federal Defense of Marriage Act repealed.

Opposing same-sex marriage

  • American Family Association

    The American Family Association, based in Mississippi, promotes conservative Christian values, including traditional marriage. It fights against pornography. Media contact is Cindy Roberts.

    Contact: 662-844-5036 ext. 227.
  • Family Research Council

    The Family Research Council is a Christian organization promoting the traditional family unit and the Judeo-Christian value system. Press contacts are J.P. Duffy or Alice Chao.

    It devotes a Web page to marriage and family issues. The page includes links to brochures, amicus briefs and other materials on same-sex marriage.

    Contact: 866-372-6397.
  • Focus on the Family

    Focus on the Family is a conservative group that supports churches’ right to campaign. The founder of this organization is James C. Dobson who was also former chairman and president.

    It considers traditional marriage the cornerstone of society and says the push for same-sex marriage is contributing to a marriage crisis in America.

    Contact: 800-232-6459.
  • National Association of Evangelicals

    The National Association of Evangelicals is an organization that includes 45,000 congregations from 40 member denominations, individual congregations from an additional 27 denominations, and 250 parachurch ministries and educational institutions. Its mission is to gather, strengthen and expand the evangelical community. Galen Carey is vice president for government relations.

    It supported efforts to uphold the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

    Contact: 202-789-1011.
  • National Organization for Marriage

    The National Organization for Marriage lists its mission as “to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it.”

  • Traditional Values Coalition

    The Traditional Values Coalition in Washington, D.C., is a leading voice in Congress for Bible-based traditional values. The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon is chairman of the organization.

    Contact: 202-547-8570.

Related source guides