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PROP 8: Opposition to ‘gay marriage’ is not based on bigotry, ERLC says in legal brief

WASHINGTON (BP)–Christian opposition to “same-sex marriage” is not based on hostility toward homosexuals and should not be considered bigotry, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission says in a friend-of-the-court brief prepared for the current trial on California’s Proposition 8.

Arguments began Monday in the San Francisco courtroom of federal judge Vaughn Walker in a challenge of the successful 2008 ballot initiative that protected the traditional definition of marriage in the country’s most populous state. Lawyers for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) submitted the brief Jan. 8 but had yet to learn Monday if the court had accepted it.

In its brief, the ERLC expresses special concern with the religious liberty implications in the case. It says the court’s acceptance of arguments by foes of Prop 8 that support of the measure is based on enmity toward homosexuals could endanger freedom of religious expression.

A faithful Christian will cast votes based on his or her beliefs on all issues, “and a just society will never seek to force a religious believer to vote or participate in the political process without reference to his or her faith,” the brief says.

“When that faith is treated as bigotry, however, the participation of Christians in public life is threatened,” it says.

The brief also says, “[T]o portray religious support for marriage (and, by extension, support for California’s Proposition 8) as rooted in anti-homosexual animus is grossly inaccurate and deeply offensive.”

ERLC President Richard Land commented on the case’s potential impact on religious freedom.

“The support for traditional marriage is not motivated by animus toward homosexuals but by deeply held religious convictions by many faiths, including tens of millions of people over several millennia,” Land said. “If the court were to rule that opposition to same-sex marriage is de facto animus toward homosexuals, it would in effect seek to negate and nullify the First Amendment, free-exercise religious rights of all Americans of faith guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

“This is now not just a case just about same-sex marriage but whether or not Americans are free to bring their deeply held religious convictions to discussions of public policy in the public square,” he said. “All Americans of religious faith and those of no religious faith should have a profound interest in this case’s outcome, which will undoubtedly end up in front of the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court whichever way it is decided in California.”

The ERLC’s brief, Land said, “states clearly why Americans have the right to defend traditional, heterosexual marriage as the only relationship defined as marriage and why it is wise and prudent of them to do so.”

Walker, a 20-year judge in California’s Northern District and a nominee of the first President Bush, made a variety of pretrial rulings that appeared to place supporters of Prop 8 at a disadvantage. If Walker overturns Prop 8, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — generally considered the country’s most liberal appellate panel — would be the next stop for the initiative’s backers. The U.S. Supreme Court may be their best chance for a favorable opinion.

Southern Baptists and most other “mainstream faith traditions” have long understood marriage between a man and a woman “as a sacred institution designed by God,” the ERLC says in its brief. One of the reasons religious adherents attempt to defend marriage is because of its promotion of “important social interests,” including childbearing and childrearing, the brief argues.

“A desire to protect the sacred institution of marriage and the social goods it promotes is the source of religious opposition to redefining marriage as the union of any two people,” the ERLC brief says. “Such a redefinition would send the message that marriage is about nothing more than adult desires. … Redefining marriage sends a message that men and women are fungible and that children do not need both a mother and a father. Christians deplore this and other threats to the meaning and significance of marriage such as divorce, cohabitation and unwed childbearing.”

It is love for God and all people that “motivates our opposition to all forms of non-marital sexual union, including between persons of the same sex,” the ERLC says in its brief. “We believe that any sexual conduct outside the bond of marriage, the union of one man and one woman, is contrary to the will of God because God has designed marriage as the only appropriate context in which sexual relations should occur.”

The brief says, “There is no authority in Biblical teachings for hatred of any people including those who identify as gay or lesbian.”

“Southern Baptists must, and do, pray that all people, including those who experience same-sex attraction, come to know and love Jesus Christ and keep His commandments,” the ERLC says in its brief.

The brief is available online at http://erlc.com/article/erlc-files-friend-of-court-brief-on-marriage/.

The case is Perry v. Schwarzenegger.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.