A diverse group of religious leaders
have asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to uphold a lower court's
ruling declaring the state's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional.
On May 9, Pulaski County Circuit Judge
Chris Piazza struck down the state's 10-year-old voter-approved
constitutional amendment and a 1997 law prohibiting gay couples from
marrying. Roughly 500 gay and lesbian couples, most of them in
Pulaski County, exchanged vows during the 6 days that transpired
before the state's highest court put the ruling on hold pending an
appeal by the state.
In a friend of the court brief filed
this week, the Rev. Bishop Larry R. Benfield, the thirteenth bishop
of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas, argues that “eliminating
discrimination in civil marriage will not impinge upon religious
doctrine or practice.”
“All religions would remain free –
as they are today with nineteen states and the District of Columbia
permitting same-sex couples to marry – to define religious marriage
any way they choose,” Benfield
states in the brief. “Nor would affirmance interfere with
religious institutions' or individuals' constitutionally protected
speech or activities. Any 'religious liberty' concerns implied by
this case appear to relate to conflicts that already can and sometime
do arise under public accommodations laws whenever religiously
affiliated organizations operate in commercial or governmental
spheres. Courts know how to respond if civil rights law enforcement
infringes First Amendment rights.”
Groups joining the brief include the
General Synod of the United Church of Christ, Mormons for Equality,
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA), Reconstructionist
Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities, Union
for Reform Judaism, the Unitarian Universalist Association,
Affirmation, Covenant Network of Presbyterians, Friends for Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC), Methodist
Federation for Social Action, More Light Presbyterians, Presbyterian
Welcome, Reconciling Ministries Network, Reconciling Works: Lutherans
for Full Participation, Religious Institute, Inc., and nearly 100
leaders of Arkansas religious communities.
The Roman Catholic Church, however,
remains opposed to marriage equality.
Bishop Anthony Taylor of the Roman
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock argued in a separate brief that
allowing gay couples to marry would undermine an institution that is
the bedrock of society and lead to unions of “couples such as
mother and daughter, sister and sister, or brother and brother.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the
nation's largest LGBT rights advocate, denounced the church's brief.
“In a state with a history of
oppression, we would hope that religious leaders above all would
understand that defending freedoms under the Constitution protects
people in the margins – those who have rarely been protected by
popular vote,” Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, director of Latino/a and
Catholic Initiatives at the HRC Foundation, said in a statement.
“Bishop Taylor’s language is not
only un-Christian, but so utterly offensive that it only serves to
undermine his integrity and the already-untenable notions contained
in his anti-marriage equality brief,” Rivera added.