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Marriage bill has similarities, differences with church position

June 6, 2006

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — The first part of the proposed Marriage Protection Amendment being debated by the U.S. Senate is very similar to the United Methodist Church’s official position, which states marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

However, the second sentence in the amendment may conflict with the church’s stand, said James Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

Winkler points to the section in the denomination’s Social Principles, Paragraph 162 H, which addresses “Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation.”

In part, the paragraph says: “We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their (homosexual persons') rightful claims where they have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law.”

“That statement may conflict with the second sentence in the proposed marriage amendment, which notes that neither this constitution nor the constitution of any state shall be construed to require marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conveyed upon any union other than the union of man and woman,” Winkler said.

The United Methodist Church’s stand on marriage is found in Paragraph 161 C, and states: “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. We believe that God's blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Arguments on the issue

Patricia Miller, executive director of the Confessing Movement, said, “It is clear that the Christian position is that marriage is reserved by God for one man and one woman.” The Confessing Movement is an unofficial United Methodist organization.

“Apart from a Christian understanding, we would hope that the Senate would support the marriage amendment. This would not require a Christian understanding but simply an understanding of the natural order — that man and woman are created for each other and that family is an essential part of culture and civilization,” she said. Miller said the Confessing Movement has not taken an official position on the Marriage Protection Amendment.

The United Methodist Church officially holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, and the denomination forbids its clergy from performing same-gender union ceremonies.

The Rev. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, United Methodist assistant professor of Old Testament at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Calif., said the church’s stand on marriage is “discriminatory and oppressive.” Kuan is a member of Clergy for Fairness, an interfaith group of religious leaders opposed to the Marriage Protection Amendment.

“One of the arguments against same-sex marriage that most readily come from Christian religious circles is that homosexuality is incompatible with biblical and Christian teachings,” Kuan said.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by John C. Goodwin.

Couples gather in Carneys Point, N.J., to dedicate a weekend to their marriages at one of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter United Methodist events.
“I need to say very clearly that Christian opposition to homosexuality is based often on selective biblical interpretation that takes the few verses of Scripture that may or may not refer to sexual intercourse between people (of the) same gender out of its socio-cultural and historical contexts. Moreover, such a stance often refuses to acknowledge that our modern understanding of sexuality is worlds apart from the understanding of sexuality in ancient times.”

“The story of creation is the story of man and woman and procreation,” said Eunice Higgins, an official with Marriage and Engaged Encounter. “We wholeheartedly support marriage to be the only relationship between a man and a woman.”

Marriage and Engaged Encounter is an affiliated organization of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. The mission of the organization is to strengthen marriages and couples’ relationship with God and the church.

Unlikely to pass

President George Bush, a member of the United Methodist Church, has said he is “proud to stand with” those supporting the amendment.

The Federal Marriage Amendment was first proposed in 2004 and failed to pass.

Winkler said it is unlikely the amendment will pass this time either. “Frankly, I don’t believe this matter rises to the level of a constitutional amendment. Federal and state laws seem to me to be the appropriate venue to deal with this issue.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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