To Have and to Hold: Gay Marriage and the Religion Question

If a conservative religious traditions can’t give their mothers or sisters full equality, how can we expect them to give a GLBT individual the time of day?

John Erickson, sports, coming out.Outrage.  Anger.  Fear.  Hatred.  These are just a few of the words that flashed across my Twitter feed as I woke up on that fateful Wednesday, June 26 morning when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA) was unconstitutional and that supporters of Proposition 8, the hotly contested voter initiative in California that banned same-sex marriage, had no standing.   People were mad.  However, it wasn’t just the typical kind of mad that is associated with hatred, it was a type gay_marriage_81102178_620x350of mad that was met with impossible anguish because what I was reading and feeling was a result of one thing: there was nothing more they could do.

What does all this mean?  Questions from friends and family were filling up my inbox and although I wanted to take a moment to just hit “Reply All,” and input the words: Equality, I had to hold back and start to examine the notion that although equality may now be firmly on the proverbial table, there is still a lot of work to be done, specifically for gay marriage and those wanting to marrying inside the traditional church spaces they grew up in and not just the ones that have come out as open and affirming in recent years towards LGBT individuals.

lesbian-same-sex-marriageThe ongoing shift of public opinion in support of gay marriage and LGBT rights in recent years is encouraging but it still is only one piece of the puzzle.  Working for the City of West Hollywood has granted me the opportunity to see first hand the beauty and the work still left to be done.  Although organizations such as California Faith for Equality or Equality California are doing an excellent job in recruiting faith-based communities and other religious organizations to join the fight for LGBT equality within religious communities the work and conversations that need to still occur outside of open and affirming churches is becoming a daunting and often overwhelming force of opposition.  The amount of individuals who still do not support gay marriage or LGBT rights in general in conservative and oftentimes hyper patriarchal religious traditions such as Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam, Judaism and other conservative Evangelical traditions still remains a daunting number and it only appears to be growing now that there has been such a public declaration from public policy and legality standpoints that echo Hilary Clinton’s famous words that: “gay rights are human rights.”

The question that remains is not why do these religious groups not support gay marriage or LGBT rights in general but how are individuals, typically on the outside, supposed to convince members of these faith-based traditions to leave or possibly change their opinions if they still remain steadfast and stubborn on other progressive causes that are often discussed on this very blog.  Women’s ordination, sexual ethics, women’s rights, and theological and religious equality in general are just a few causes that individuals on the outside believe would be no brainers when compared to tackling the issues of gay marriage and LGBT rights but still we have on-going and often exhaustive conversations about ensuring the full rights of women in faith-based traditions and communities.

The other question that remains may seem to be the icing on the cake but it is really the tip of the iceberg when we discuss issues like equality within religion: if people refuse to leave their religious traditions and communities when women, who are oftentimes the reason for the very success of not only religion but also faith-based communities in general, then do we really think or expect that they’ll leave when their LGBT brothers and sisters are also denied that same type of recognition but on top of it constantly told they are sinners and are going to hell?  If a conservative religious traditions can’t give their mothers or sisters full equality, how can we expect them to give LGBT individuals the time of day?


The issue of equality doesn’t just stop at gay marriage and LGBT rights but only begins there.  Women’s rights, women’s ordination, and even the idea of a woman President are the only a few of the other pieces of the equality puzzle anxiously awaiting to be put together.   As we have seen with the fight for equality, groups are banding together now more than ever before and although gay marriage may be on the front page of newspapers today, who knows what tomorrow could bring.

John Erickson is a doctoral student in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University.  His research interests involve an interdisciplinary approach and are influenced by his time as the director of a women’s center and active member in the GLBTQ and women’s rights movements.  His work is inspired by the intersectionality of  feminism, queer identity, and religious political and cultural rhetoric.  He is the author of the blog, From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter at@jerickson85.

Author: John M. Erickson

Mayor Pro Tempore John M. Erickson was elected to the West Hollywood City Council on November 3, 2020 with the commitment to uphold the city’s founding vision for a forward-thinking, diverse and tolerant community. Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson first planted roots in West Hollywood in 2010 when he was selected to intern for the City Council. The internship set him on a path that connected his work for social and economic justice with his passion for public service. He went on to become Council Deputy to former Mayor Abbe Land and then served as City’s Community Affairs where he advanced policies and programs to increase awareness around LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, the environment, and civic engagement. After leaving City Hall, Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson served as a Legislative Representative at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) and is currently the Interim Vice President of Public Affairs, Communications, and Marketing at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. The immediate past Vice-Chair of the City’s Planning Commission, Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson’s priorities on the City Council include: overcoming COVID through sensible health practices and economic recovery; creating more affordable housing and protecting renters’ rights; reducing traffic through alternative transportation strategies, fighting climate change and making our city more sustainable; and implementing policies that make the city truly free of prejudice and welcoming to all. Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson has earned a reputation as a fearless, tenacious and effective voice for those who need one. His advocacy work includes serving a National Board member of the National Organization for Women and President of the ACLU Southern California. In 2017, he became Governor Brown’s appointee to the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls and served as an organizer for both the Resist March and the historic Women’s March, Los Angeles that year. He serves on the Board of the Women’s March Los Angeles Foundation Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson was part of the End Statute of Limitation on Rape (ERSOL) Campaign, which overturned California’s statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault in 2016. Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson received his Ph.D. in American Religious History from Claremont Graduate University and a Dual-Master’s Degree from Claremont Graduate University. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh with a B.A. in English and Women’s Studies.

20 thoughts on “To Have and to Hold: Gay Marriage and the Religion Question”

  1. People are often terrified of change. Some will be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the future. But change is inevitable. It is really the only thing we can count on. There’s no going back now. All we can do is listen patiently to those who resist so loudly. Their pain will abate with time. They must grieve the loss of the familiar “good old days,” when it was okay to hate those who were “different.”

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Exactly. We are going to need to listen even more now in order to move forward together! Thanks for your comment!


  2. Another pertinent question is: When are religious people going to realize that the Bible, on which they base their religious traditions, is an all too human book? It has been written by humans and changed by humans. It contains many contradictory statements – some arguing for inclusiveness and equality – that have been altered. It is in no way “the unchanged word of God.” Why don’t people look into what has been done in the writing of and translation process to this book on which they found their beliefs? If minds aren’t even that inquiring, what hope is there of changing them?


    1. I think that when we admit that the Bible is an “all too human book,” we walk a line that shows that the Bible is capable of making mistakes or not being 100% true. People are afraid of change and more importantly, people are afraid that if God or whatever diety you choose to worship isn’t constant, than what is?


  3. Thanks for this post. As a person who had more family members who identify as gay than as straight, I often wonder about people who harbor such strong prejudice against gay people and gay rights. We are all, literally, family!


    1. You’re welcome! I am the only “one” in my family (that I know of) but you are right with the closing statement, “We are all family!”


    1. These difference movements are nice butI was making more of a general statement. We can go through and “list” all of these different religious beliefs that affirm gay marriage but what it comes down to in the eyes of those working solely on the side of gay marriage is that they see religion, i.e. “the big 3” as generally against them for the most part and although these other religious movements may affirm them, they are only pieces of the puzzle. They can affirm gay marriage but as we saw with the walkout numbers when the UCC became open and affirming, it is more than just affirming gay marriage but rather working with gay marriage leaders to get to those more conversative faith-based communities that won’t even acknowledge it let alone affirm it.


      1. I agree with you that fundamentalist Christians and the Roman Catholic hierarchy have undue and unjust influence in American politics, but I think you make a mistake to deny or diminish the importance of the work gay and straight people have done to change religious communities. I also think it is generally speaking a mistake to “lump” Judaism in with Christianity, when the 2 religions have very different histories in relation to many things, including gay rights and gay marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t choose to work within any of those communities.


  4. Yes. If i could get married in a catholic chuch i would…and by a WomanPriest…welcome brave new world…!


  5. Good thing three women were on the Supreme Court. Just think what would have happened had we had all white men on the court, or almost all white men and Thomas. The fact is, when women get onto these courts things change. I am not holding my breath about women and ordination. Remember, gay rights and gay marriage benefits men, women’s ordination does not benefit men, and therefore, my prediction is that a lot of churches will support gay marriage, but they will not ordain women. It’s why Saudi Arabia is not a pariah state the way pre-Apartheid South Africa was. Hint: If it involves the rights of men, there is the go ahead. Human rights are considered male rights. And women need to really get this. All of the enemies of white gay men are the same enemies of lesbians. But lesbians also have additional enemies within the happy LGBT family, and we are not sisters, or mothers or daughters, we are women demanding an end to male supremacy itself. Gay marriage is just a crumb that patriarchy is doling out, mainly to placate some elite men. But it does not seriously question the very existence of marriage as the cornerstone of female ownership within patriarchy. And therein lies the problem with reform and why it doesn’t work.


    1. TW, I couldn’t agree with you more. I just listened to a great interview with Fran Lebowitz and in it, she states that: “Who would have thought that in the 70s the top 2 issues the gay community would be involve in would be gay marriage and gays in the military! These are two FORMAL, CONSTRAINING, institutions that do nothing to support what the gay rights movement is all about!” Marriage is a contricting and oftentimes forceful union. I very much believe in the concept put down by Daly in regards to marriage but when I look at it practically, I have a different opinion of marriage.


  6. Hey Crumbs from the master’s table usually are well received by starving dogs– and that’s the conservative reformist position within gay-dom these days John. But it does not promote women’s revolution, or what Mary Daly presented. It is just crumbs within male supremacy and all its inherent evils.

    I’d be discouraged by this massive sell out, and dog and pony show, if it weren’t for the forceful reemergence of a younger generation of radical feminists. And that is going to be a force to be reckoned with. This time around, it isn’t the lone women like Mary Daly trying to find the radical path that was erased in patriarchy, but it is a generation that is simply discovering Daly for the first time, and being blown away by the audacity and power.

    So yeah, a crumb or two, a jig or two. Men benefit from all this stuff, women just get deluded and in survival mode.


    1. I couldn’t agree more at this time regarding the Daly point but I am really interested in the sociological data that will be coming out very soon regarding who (men/women) are getting married now that it is legal again in California (one of the most populus states). Do women benefit more from gay marriage or men?


  7. Do women benefit more from “gay” marriage? This is hard to say, because it depends on how you define the word benefit. I’d say, this whole obsession with social acceptance, that many gays and lesbians fall victim to these days is worth examining. I’d much rather have a movement that would increase the social security income of elderly women across the board, to compensate for a lifetime of underpaid work under male supremacy, and the ability to choose your own social security beneficiary, rather than have it be tied to a marriage partner, for example.

    The history of marriage itself is sordid, to say the least. It is the stolen labor machine men rely on to fuel the engines of patriarchy— and in Andrea Dworkin’s precient classic “Right Wing Women” she said that conservative hetero women made a bargain–get a nice man to settle down with them, so that they would only have to have sex with one male, rather than be subject to the hoards of men that left wing sexual revolution rhetoric promoted.


  8. Do women benefit from marriage? Hetero women that is? Studies show that women thrive very well after husbands die, but the reverse is not true. Single hetero men have the most problems, probably because the male structure is built on vampirism, with men literally sucking the life out of women in the home.

    How does this play out in the same sex arena? I don’t know how any feminist could say that marriage is all that great an institution anywhere in the world. Really, and if you are a hetero married woman, going to hetero dominated churches, imbibing heteronormative privileged worlds, well, I wouldn’t rely on this very much as a liberation indicator. Harm reduction yes, but not freedom.

    I believe gay marriage will create class divisions within gay society itself. Already, I hear women saying, “I was LEGALLY married,”


  9. Lesbians are saying this, which then negates all the so-called “non-legal” partnerships that lesbians throughout time have lived in. Virginia Woolf, Harriet Hosmer, Rosa Bonheur, and Charlotte Cushman come to mind here. Let’s not forget Natalie Clifford Barney.

    Many gay men I know, and the gay men I’ve known over the decades had decidedly unconventional love lives. They might have one “partner” and continue to have serial sex partners. Or they had multiple partners. Gay men are doing an awful lot of faking it these days, to perform as “normal” for the hetero power brokers. It all strikes me as a ruse of some sort. Not that there aren’t “traditionally” partnered gay men, but there is a whole lot more going on socially, that is not heteronormative or “heteroimitative”– to use Harry Hay’s pejoritive word. How did marriage become the engine of pay, pensions, health care plans, and social security benefits to begin with? I’ve talked to hetero daughters of lesbian couples, who said marriage would have helped their moms a lot, and improved their childhoods, so perhaps those gays or lesbians who have children or who want children might be better served by this. The dull heteronormative desires of this group will be in conflict with the wild west which was my vision of lesbian nation, however.

    What I don’t want to be annoyed with is baby babble or the boring conversations surrounding a dull expensive wedding– gay or straight, it annoys me. Give me a Harry Hay or Mary Daly or Natalie Clifford Barney any day. Like all pioneering populations, gays underestimate the power of co-optation and domestication that marriage represents. It sure as heck has not liberated women, and that is the institutional result of marriage. Marriage worldwide is a nightmare for women, so you have to wonder what all the pandering for gay marriage really represents.

    I like the idea of gay and lesbian marriage as kind of dumbed down patter to feed straight people, who are clueless about who we are unless we imitate their institutions. So perhaps our community is simply playing a joke on the heteros out there, throwing them a bone and pretending something, so that they’ll get us. Or we just like to make the right wingers mad, which is the source of endless entertainment in our community.

    But I do know, marriage will dull us down as a people, and I feel sad about this somehow.


    1. Many of the young people I know these days aren’t bothering to get married at all. I think the only reason gay people want marriage is to be able to get the legal rights that are only available via marriage. If marriage went away, maybe everyone would have the same legal rights. What a concept! Personally, I have felt for a long time that marriage was invented to control women. Period. So why would we try to extend its reach instead of just getting rid of it entirely?


  10. Katherine you’ve got it right. Marriage was invented to own and control women, period. So we should really get rid of the entire institution. Now that would be radical. You would receive benefits based on your individual self, nothing else. I also think that we should outlaw changing names…. women change their last name to the male last name in hetero land, and like titles of nobility, which were outlawed, we have to think about this.

    So let’s end marriage. Get rid of the whole thing.


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