Religious and political leaders are sounding off on same-sex marriage — some announcing a change of opinion — in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court tackling the issue in two cases next week.
The high court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which voters passed in 2008 to constitutionally ban gay marriage in that state, and on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which Congress passed in 1996 and prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage when applying federal laws, benefits and programs.
Richard Land, Southern Baptist Convention leader and executive editor of the Christian Post, compared the cases to the court weighing in on abortion when it ruled in the controversial Roe v. Wade case in 1973.
"The court has a massive challenge ahead of it — threading the needle between state's rights and the press of coastal public opinion," Land wrote in a CP editorial.
Land urged the justices to keep Proposition 8 within California's borders and not allow their ruling to impact the constitutional bans on same-sex marriage in more than 30 other states.
"One would hope the Supreme Court would heed the lessons of history and make a narrow ruling on California and California alone and not repeat the mistake of Roe and further divide and inflame the country on the deeply divisive issue of same sex marriage," Land wrote. "The better part of judicial wisdom would be to follow the precedent of the last 224 years and leave the issue of marriage to the various states."
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential GOP presidential candidate, told the Conservative Political Action Committee last week the same thing, while asking liberals to respect his views.
"Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot," Rubio said, according to Video Cafe. "Just because we believe life, all life — all human life is worthy of protection at every stage in its development — does not make you a chauvinist."
But another high-profile Republican who had consistently voted against same-sex marriage and in support of DOMA changed his position last week.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and once a potential running mate to Mitt Romney, announced last week that he supports marriage equality. Having a gay son, consulting with other leaders who have gay children and going to the Bible all played into Portman's decision.
"The overriding message of love and compassion that I take from the Bible, and certainly the Golden Rule, and the fact that I believe we are all created by our maker, that has all influenced me in terms of my change on this issue," Portman said in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Candace Chellew-Hodge, a Christian pastor and editor of an online magazine for LGBT Christians, said Portman's change of heart follows a pattern.
"As we’ve always preached in the LGBT community, the best way to bring about change is to get to know an actual living, breathing, LGBT person. Congratulations, then, to Portman for coming around to the right side of history," she wrote in Religion Dispatches.
Politicians aren't the only ones switching sides. Former megachurch pastor and author Rob Bell endorsed allowing same-sex couples to legally marry, according to a Huffington Post blog.
"I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it's a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man," Bell said in San Francisco at a stop on a book tour. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are."
"These figures are a recipe for the same volatile backlash Roe produced and has caused 19 state attorneys general to urge the Court not to 'stultify democratic principles by declaring a winner of the marriage debate,'" Land wrote.
He contends the court can "thread the needle" by ruling in favor of individual state same-sex marriage laws in the DOMA and Proposition 8 appeals.
"Such decision making by the Supreme Court would leave the issue of defining marriage within the borders of each state (such as California), but at the same time declaring that if a state (such as New York) defines same-sex marriage as marriage, the federal government (including the IRS) would defer to each particular state's definition of marriage when determining eligibility for benefits."