In recent years, being in support of gay marriage rights has become the norm. In this process, some groups have been significantly less progressive than others. Religious Christians have been more conservative than others—many denominations still not allowing or outright banning gay marriages. This has led to many people ostracizing Christians as intolerant or even unintelligent. This label is patently false for members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) like myself. The PC(USA) has always been known for its tolerance toward all people. The Church has allowed gay men and women to become ordained ministers since 2013. More recently, the Church announced a clarification of its definition of marriage: it is a union between two people, not just a man and a woman.
It’s not just the PC(USA) that is becoming more tolerant. Pope Francis—though he is not in favor of gay marriage—has said that he supports civil unions, property rights and medical care for gay people. This is a huge step for a community that has promoted shunning gay relatives in the past.
The Reverend Father Sean Major-Campbell of Christ Church in Vineyard Town, Jamaica—a community in Kingston—recently came under intense scrutiny in the largely homophobic country. Major-Campbell washed the feet of two Jamaican lesbians during a celebration of human rights at his church on December 7, 2014. Many members of his congregation were upset by his demonstration.
“I don't know how suddenly gay rights become human rights and human rights is now gay rights,” a member who wished to remain anonymous said to The Jamaica Gleaner. “I have a problem with that.” Major-Campbell understood the frustration, but emphasized his desire to make the church a safe place for homosexual people.
“It is quite understandable that some persons will have some difficulty because human sexuality is a difficult subject … in our country and culture,” he said. “We really do not have enough safe spaces for people to explore the subject, [while] feeling safe or judged, and that is true even of the Church itself.”
Catholic priest Monsignor Richard Albert—a Bronx, New York-native who has lived in Jamaica for nearly 40 years—has also expressed a desire to see Jamaicans embrace gay and lesbian members of their communities.
To change the homophobic culture—both in Jamaica and in places in the United States—religious leaders should take charge. In deeply religious, tightly knit communities, pastors, reverends, rabbis and others are the ones with the most control over social behavior. Judges can make rulings, but that doesn’t do anything to curb discrimination and hatred. This can be seen in places like Alabama where United States District Judge Callie V.S. Granade ruled that the state’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. People like Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis, however, refused to comply because of their own personal beliefs.
The transition to a culture that universally accepts gay marriage will not be a quick and painless one. There will always be people who are too stubborn to accept different viewpoints. Nevertheless, religious institutions promoting a culture of acceptance is a big step forward.