Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and Barrett Duke, the ERLC's vice president for public policy and research, signed with 37 other religious leaders -- including Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and Lutherans -- an open letter to U.S. citizens.
In the letter, they "encourage all people of good will to protect marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and to consider carefully the far-reaching consequences for the religious freedom of all Americans if marriage is redefined.
"We especially urge those entrusted with the public good to support laws that uphold the time-honored definition of marriage, and so avoid threatening the religious freedom of countless institutions and citizens in this country. Marriage and religious freedom are both deeply woven into the fabric of this nation."
Land and many of the signers also had joined together in a December 2010 open letter that urged Americans to stand together to defend the traditional understanding of marriage for the good of society. The latest letter focuses on the threats to religious liberty from the legalization of homosexual "marriage."
Changing the definition of marriage will have as one of its effects "the interference with the religious freedom of those who continue to affirm the true definition of marriage," according to the letter.
The religious leaders say the "most urgent peril" in legalizing same-sex "marriage" is "forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations -- throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies -- to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct."
They point to church-state conflicts that already have occurred when those with convictions opposed to homosexual "marriage" resisted laws that legalized such unions. Those clashes will continue to occur as "same-sex" marriage advances legally, the signers say. They give as examples the following "sorts of situations" that have occurred already:
-- "eligious adoption services that place children exclusively with married couples would be required by law to place children with persons of the same sex who are civilly 'married.'
-- "Religious marriage counselors would be denied their professional accreditation for refusing to provide counseling in support of same-sex 'married' relationships.
-- "Religious employers who provide special health benefits to married employees would be required by law to extend those benefits to same-sex 'spouses.'
-- "Religious employers would also face lawsuits for taking any adverse employment action -- no matter how modest -- against an employee for the public act of obtaining a civil 'marriage' with a member of the same sex."
The signers say revising the legal definition of marriage will change thousands of laws.
The signers included Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, and William Roberts, national commander of The Salvation Army.
Among others endorsing the letter were leaders of Anglican, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Free Methodist, Evangelical Free, Christian and Missionary Alliance, General Baptist, Nazarene, Brethren, Congregational, Vineyard, Jewish and Mormon groups.
Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized homosexual "marriage," and there are efforts in others to achieve the same result. The six states are Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Iowa. There also is an attempt in Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that defines marriage for federal purposes as between a man and a woman and gives states the option of not recognizing another state's gay "marriages."
The Jan. 12 letter is titled "Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together." The document and the list of signers, which were released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, may be accessed online at http://bit.ly/wPiEwl.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.
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