Southerners are evenly divided about the freedom to marry, a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute reveals, with 48% in favor of same-gender marriage and 48% who oppose (Compare: Northeast – 60%, West – 58%, Midwest – 51%). As we look towards the 221st General Assembly, the South will be a key region if the GA sends a marriage amendment to the presbyteries for ratification. (A simple majority of the presbyteries nationwide is needed to ratify an amendment to the Book of Order.)
While the even split places the South behind other regions, the great news is support for the freedom to marry has more than doubled in the past 10 years from 22 percent in 2003 to 48 percent in 2013. In an article in The Atlantic commenting on these dramatic shifts, Robert P. Jones writes:
We are witnessing dramatic cultural transformations, which include changing minds even among culturally and religiously conservative Americans in the South. Like remnants of Jim Crow-era racism, the hostility toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people depicted in Dallas Buyer’s Club can of course still be found in the contemporary South, but it’s no longer unquestioned.
In the context of these shifting demographics, U.S. Congressman John Lewis from Atlanta, Georgia recently worked with Freedom to Marry to launch Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, a campaign that works in partnership with 12 Southern equality organizations to amplify the voices of people who support the freedom to marry. “I look forward to the day, not just in the state of Georgia, but all across the American South and all across our country – when the question of being free to fall in love and marry whoever you will please will no longer be an issue. … And that day will come! It will come in America, in our lifetime.” (check out his video below!)
If the 221st General Assembly does decide to approve the Presbytery of the Cascades overture to update the understanding of marriage to “a unique commitment between two people,” what will the ratification campaign look like in the South?
Looking Back: Amendment 10-A
This map represents the states in the Southerners for the Freedom to Marry campaign overlaid with statistics from the 2010 campaign to remove barriers to the ordination of openly lesbian and gay candidates to ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The numbers next to each state are the combined presbytery votes for each state (the red states failed to approve Amendment 10-A).
As you can see in the chart, Amendment 10-A passed in 10 of the 14 states in the South. In addition, 11 presbyteries in the South switched their votes to support ordaining LGBTQ clergy from the Amendment 08-B votes just two years prior. While support for ordaining openly gay and lesbian clergy does not directly correlate with support for the freedom to marry, the picture of the 2010 vote in the PC(USA) paints a hopeful picture.
More Light Presbyterians is proud to be taking the lead on education and advocacy for amending the Book of Order to extend the freedom to marry to LGBTQ couples in our denomination. An amendment is essential because it is a long-term witness to the full validity of the commitment of same-sex couples and the assurance that marriages will continue to be recognized by the church.
Are you a Southerner who supports the freedom to marry in our denomination and society? We need you to play a part for change in the South.
One of the reasons for this rapid change in the South is the value southerners place on hospitality. According to The Atlantic, “there is a growing ‘friends and family effect’ at work in changing attitudes.” In other words, LGBTQ people are coming out.
More Light Presbyterians is collecting a list of LGBTQ people living in the South who would be willing to share their stories in a potential ratification campaign after the 221st General Assembly. Would you be interested in partnering with us?
(Photograph above by Catalina Kulczar-Marin to encourage North Carolina to ‘Let Love Reign.’)