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The Manhattan Declaration of 2009

Analysis of its marriage & religious freedom sections

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About the Manhattan Declaration:

A group of over 150 "Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical" Christian leaders released their Manhattan Declaration -- a call for all Christians to resist many changes to the culture. It advocates civil disobedience where necessary. 1

Analysis of the "Marriage" section:

bullet Their introductory paragraph discusses the origin and nature of marriage by loving committed opposite-sex couples, but does not address the wishes for equal treatment and protection among loving, committed same-sex couples and their children.
bullet They are justifiably concerned with the relatively sudden rise in the percentage of out-of-wedlock birth rate from less than 5% to more than 40% over the past two generations. Yet they oppose one method of making at least a slight inroad on this number by legalizing same-sex marriage (SSM). Many "out of wedlock" children are being raised in single-parent families without financial or emotional support from the other partner. This should be a concern for all Americans, whether they be a conservative Christian, a progressive Christian, a member of another faith, or a secularist.
bulletThey oppose unilateral divorce. Yet that policy would result in more children being raised in a conflict-ridden home by parents who hate each other. Therapists and child psychologists disagree on whether that would damage children more or less than divorce.
bulletThere is no mention of two major programs that could significantly reduce the divorce rate: pre-marital counseling and separation counseling.
bulletThey appear to discount child rearing by same-sex married couples, even though many of the latter adopt and raise children. Lesbian couples often conceive and raise children just as infertile opposite-sex couples do: through artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization.
bulletThey discount all same-sex relationships as intrinsically immoral and sinful. Other Christians regard all loving, committed relationships and marriages as potentially moral, whether the couple are of the same-sex or opposite-sex, as long as manipulation, and coercion are not present, and the activities are safe.
bulletThey seem to imply that the only valid marriage requires procreation. This would seem to negate the validity of marriages where one spouse is infertile, or where the spouses were elderly and beyond the ages when procreation is possible. In particular, they denigrate many families in which the spouses have adopted children.
bulletThey correctly argue the main points of disagreement by Christians over same-sex marriage (SSM): liberals view marriage as a civil right that is not to be denied on the basis of a person's sexual orientation. Religious and social conservatives oppose same-sex marriage because, among other reasons, they are concerned that it might lead down a "slippery slope" to demands to legalize incestuous marriages, polygamous marriages, or even, as has been suggested as possibilities: men wanting to marry their dogs and women wanting to marry the Eiffel Tower in Paris or other structures.
bulletThey list a number of harms that they believe would result from legalizing same-sex marriages:
bullet Infringement on the religious liberty of those who oppose SSM. Many Christians reject this as a valid concern. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of denomination to discriminate in employment and in the provision of services without government interference. Many conservative Christian denominations deny all women the right to ordination with impunity. Faith groups have denied marriage to interracial couples, same-sex couples, non-members, etc. without any government interference. The Roman Catholic Church has even denied marriage to disabled persons if they would be unable to consummate the marriage. To our knowledge, no clergyperson or church or denomination has ever been charged with discrimination after denying marriage to a couple for any reason.
bullet Schools would teach that both opposite-sex and same-sex marriages exist. It can be argued that this is a topic about which all students and adults should be aware because it has been a fact of life in Massachusetts since 2004, in Canada since 2005 and in the District of Columbia and a growing number of other states since 2005.
bullet They equate the creation of marriage equality with "eroding a sound understanding of marriage." Other Christians have a very different "sound understanding of marriage" that includes SSM couples. Other Christians feel that to allow loving committed same-sex couples to marry will strengthen the institution of marriage. They often point to Massachusetts as the state that was first to legalize SSM and continues to be the state with the lowest divorce in the union.
bullet Their desire to improve opposite-sex marriages and to strengthen the marriage culture is one that almost all Christians, followers of other religions, and secularists can agree with. However, many persons who are not conservative Christians also feel that this effort should be include all marriages -- whether by opposite or same-sex spouses. Since 2011, a majority of American adults have supported same-sex marriage.

Analysis of the "Religious Liberty" section:

They are correct that the "struggle for religious liberty across the centuries has been long and arduous." In the past, religious liberty concentrated on the right of persons to hold non-traditional beliefs. But in recent years, the meaning of religious freedom and liberty appears to be transitioning towards the freedom of religious folk to denigrate, attack the civil rights of, and oppress others.

Sometimes, this takes a minor form, as in the use of quotation marks around the word "marriage" whenever it refers to same-sex marriage in order to denigrate SSM. Other times, it involves very serious matters, like the government denying faith groups that want to marry loving committed same-sex couples their right to perform such marriages. It may also involve access by married opposite-sex couples to birth control, or access to assisted fertility services, or even access to referrals to other groups that can provide such services.

If we have a situation in which some denominations promote marriage for both opposite and same-sex couples, while other faith groups are anxious to preserve marriage as a special privilege of opposite-sex couples, then true religious freedom would seem to imply that all denominations should be free to follow their own teachings. In fact, all legislation that has legalized same-sex marriages in the U.S. have included clauses allowing religious groups to freely discriminate. But unless a state legalizes same-sex marriage, no congregation that supports SSM can marry its own same-sex couples.

The declaration refers to sexual relations by a same-sex married couple to be intrinsically immoral as if this is a fact accepted by everyone. In reality, many Christians regard such sexual relations by both same-sex and opposite-sex as immoral when they are unsafe or when coercion or manipulation is involved, but otherwise view them as morally neutral or positive. As noted above, since 2011, a majority of American adults have supported same-sex marriage.

They describe what they believe to be government limitations on the right of faith groups and clergy to discriminate against homosexuals and bisexuals:

bullet They refer to the decision of Catholic Charities in the state of Massachusetts to terminate its activities because state law required them to consider all married couples as potential adopting parents. They closed down their agency in order to avoid treating same-sex couples equally.
bullet They refer to the Ocean Grove Boardwalk Pavilion, a Methodist institution in New Jersey. That group had obtained tax exempt status after agreeing that their facility would be a "public accommodation." That is, they would provide goods and services to the general public. The group broke their agreement with the Government when they refused to allow a lesbian couple to conduct their civil union at the pavilion. This conflict triggered a lawsuit that was settled in 2012-JAN in favor of the same-sex couple. The group lost their tax exempt status.
bullet They refer to European clergy who were prosecuted for denigrating homosexuality in their sermons. This apparently refers to the case of Pastor Åke Green, a Pentecostal clergyperson in Sweden who was charged with religious hate speech and later had his conviction overturned. They fail to mention that he was convicted under a hate speech law. Hate speech laws in the U.S. do not exist. Further they cannot exist because of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
bullet The refer to a Canadian clergyperson(s) who were similarly prosecuted for delivering  sermon(s) containing hate speech against homosexual behavior. The details of this case are not clear. However, the Criminal Code of Canada, which applies across the entire country, only prohibits hate speech in a religious setting when it advocates genocide.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Manhattan Declaration," official website, at:
  2. Manhattan Declaratoin logo "Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience," Text of the Manhattan Declaration, 2009-NOV-20, at: This is a PDF file.

Home pageChristianity > Creeds, statements. etc. > Manhattan Decl. > here

Home page > World Religions > Christianity > Creeds, statements. etc. > Manhattan Decl. > here

Home page >Change policies > Manhattan Decl. > here

 Home > ChristianityBeliefs, history... > Change policies > Manhattan Decl. > here

...and other paths too numerous to list

Copyright © 2009 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Originally written: 2009-NOV-22
Latest update: 2012-JUL-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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