Despite their frequent claims to the contrary, anti-gay Christians do not hold a monopoly on the interpretation of their faith. Although conservatives have strived to depict marriage equality as a grave threat to religious liberty, millions of devout Christians across every denomination enthusiastically support equal dignity for gay people. The future of gay rights in America is most likely in these Christians’ hands. Atheists, agnostics, and Reform Jews already overwhelmingly support full LGBTQ equality. At this point, only tolerant Christians can push back against the absurd and insulting idea that the only valid reading of the Bible is an anti-gay one.
Earlier this month, the Presbyterian Church demonstrated that this pushback is already in full swing by voting to recognize same-sex marriage in order to honor “the love of gays and lesbian couples.” Now another mainline Protestant denomination has taken a firm stance in favor of gay equality. On Wednesday, the Disciples of Christ asked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to veto a new bill legalizing anti-gay discrimination, threatening to move their 2017 General Assembly to another state if the bill became law. Pence signed the legislation on Thursday morning in a closed-door ceremony. But the Disciples have not backed down, and—if they follow through on their promise—will deprive the state of nearly $6 million in revenue.
We know from polling that a significant majority of Catholics, mainline Protestants, and millennial evangelicals support marriage equality. But the battle for gay rights has remained a largely secular one, permitting anti-gay holdouts within every faith to insist that LGBTQ equality threatens their own religious liberty. Until more denominations assert that their religion does not require them to disdain gays, this minority of believers will remain empowered to pass off their intolerance as a majority view integral to their faith.
By the way, I don’t actually have any hope that anti-gay Christians will stop declaring that they are the true representatives of the faith community in the gay marriage debate. This notion has always been cockamamie and actually rather offensive. A staggering majority of American Jews—somewhere near the 83 percent mark—support marriage equality, and Reform Jews have supported full LGBTQ equality for decades. This hasn’t stopped anti-gay Christians from painting themselves as the sole mouthpiece for the faithful, at least in the realm of gay rights.
If anti-gay Christians have been willing to conveniently overlook American Jews for so long, they’ll surely be able to ignore clamoring voices for equality within their own denominations. Gay rights advocates in the faith community, then, shouldn’t waste their time trying to win over the hardliners, who will always find some religious pretext to affirm their private prejudices. Rather, they simply need to make their voices heard, to take a very public, very passionate stand for gay rights. Already this month, Presbyterians and the Disciples of Christ have taken a giant leap toward, illustrating the deeply felt tolerance of so many believers. It wasn’t enough to stop the travesty in Indiana. But it sent a powerful message to the millions of Americans who use their faith to justify their bigotry: You do not speak for me.