Religious vs. Civil Marriage
The debate over the freedom to marry is solely about the right of non-heterosexual couples to enter into the government-created institution of civil marriage. Civil marriage consists of two, unrelated (non-familial) adults entering into a legal contract which is recognized by the government. As a result of this contract, the adult couple is granted certain rights and assigned certain responsibilities. Additionally, there is a commonly understood societal status associated with being a married couple. Marriage is a civil right and all loving and committed, consenting, adult couples should be allowed to enter into the institution if they so choose.
Unlike some religious definitions, civil definitions of marriage do not usually mention childbearing, sexual relations, living arrangements, or religious beliefs/observances.
When clergy or congregations of religious faith communities marry couples it is a religious rite/ceremony, not a civil contract. Clergy and congregations choose whom they marry. They are not compelled or required to accept the government's definition of marriage. Some religious institutions are more restrictive than the state, rejecting interfaith marriages or remarriages after divorce. Those with broader definitions, bless the unions of same-gender couples.
In the U.S., a marriage is only legal with the signing of a civil marriage license. Many couples get married by a judge, a justice of the peace, or other public officiant. They need not go to a church, synagogue or mosque in order to marry.
Our government has made the process simpler by allowing religious leaders to perform a religious wedding AND to act as a civil officiant. The religious leader must sign the civil marriage license before witnesses and the couple for the marriage to be legal.
In Europe, couples MUST go before a public official to marry. A religious ceremony is 'secondary' and optional -- only occurring if the couple wishes to have one.
• Civil and religious marriages are not the same thing. Many religious faiths already recognize religious unions or marriages between same-sex couples, even though such unions are not recognized by all 50 state governments. (See our National Marriage Map and State-by-State Laws page to see which states, the District of Columbia and Indian Tribes, in addition to the federal government, recognize same-sex marriages.)
• Individual congregations of American Baptists, Buddhists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and the Society of Friends perform marriages for same-sex couples. Below we list the religions that perform same-sex marriages as a matter of policy.
• Reform Judaism, the Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ are very active in the fight for marriage equality.
• Even after civil marriage becomes available to all same-sex couples in all 50 states, religions will retain the right to decide for themselves whether to perform or recognize any marriage, just as they already do. No court decision or legislative enactment can change the basic tenets of religious faith. For example, some religions will not marry someone who has already been divorced, although the person is free to marry civilly. We respect the right of each faith to decide which marriages it will embrace.
Here is an excellent article entitled, A Conservative Christian Case for Civil Same-Sex Marriage that refutes conservative Christians' belief that civil marriage for same-sex couples should not be recognized.
The following religions perform same-sex marriages/bless same-gender relationships as a matter of policy:
There does not seem to be a cohesive Buddhist policy relating to same-sex marriages. James Shaheen, Editor & Publisher of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, wrote an article on the subject in 2009. The Dalai Lama has been consistently against same-sex marriages according to the Shaheen article. On the other hand, Taiwan's first Buddhist same-sex wedding is scheduled to take place in August 2012.
On 10 July 2012 the Episcopal Church voted to approve a blessing for the unions of same-sex couples. This blessing is distinct from that used by the church to marry a man and a woman. Following the 26 June 2013 Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8, the Episcopal Church began using revised language with the same wording to bless both heterosexual and same-sex marriages.
On 6 July 2012 Presbyterians debated for more than three hours whether to change their definition of marriage. In the end, they preserved the traditional meaning, upheld a ban on officiating gay weddings, and sustained related tensions that have roiled their denomination for years.
Quaker groups leave the decision to clergy, congregations or local governing bodies.
According to Wikipedia, there are conflicting views in modern Sikhism on sexual orientation, Sarbat.net is a website for LGBT Skhs and they provide a paper on Sikh Views on Same-Sex Relationships.
The United Methodist Church forbids blessing same-sex unions, which has inspired ecclesiastical disobedience, church trials and much debate. United Methodists concluded their General Conference on 4 May 2012 without voting on gay clergy or same-sex marriage, a surprising end to a disappointing week for gay activists.