Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
A small denomination with approximately 92,000 adherents in the United States, the Religious Society of Friends has a history of joining struggles for peace and social justice, based on its testimonies of peace and equality. There is no central authority that speaks for all Quakers, however, and the Religious Society of Friends has not come to unity on matters related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and recognition.
Many Quaker communities are open and welcoming to LGBT people, and an increasing number take the marriages and unions of LGBT couples under their care. Others hold differing views on a wide range of LGBT issues, including nondiscrimination, civil marriage rights, support for families headed by LGBT people, and spiritual equality.
Friends have a history of fighting for social justice, and they traditionally welcome all people to their meetings. Some Friends organizations also bless unions between same-sex couples and advocate for LGBT rights in the legal and political arenas.
Many local Friends communities welcome LGBT people unequivocally. In addition, the Friends General Conference, one of three major national associations for Friends meetings and churches in the United States, issued a statement in fall 2004, “Minute on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Friends,” emphasizing that LGBT people were welcome in their religious community:
“Our experience has been that spiritual gifts are not distributed with regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Our experience has been that our Gatherings and Central Committee work have been immeasurably enriched over the years by the full participation and Spirit-guided leadership of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer Friends. We will never go back to silencing those voices or suppressing those gifts. Our experience confirms that we are all equal before God, as God made us, and we feel blessed to be engaged in the work of Friends General Conference together.”
In addition, the American Friends Service Committee, an independent Quaker organization working nonviolently for peace, human rights and social and economic justice, has been involved in advocacy for LGBT rights and recognition since the 1960s. In November 1999, the AFSC board of directors issued a statement, “A Concern About Sexual and Gender Identity,” expressing their support for GLBT equality:
“We believe that sexuality is governed by the same New Testament ethic that guides every other conduct choice for faithful Christians. Responsibility, mutuality, love, justice, non violence, non domination, and non exploitation characterize what Jesus called the “Kingdom of God.” How will sexual expression of love be judged? “By their fruits you shall know them” (Mt. 7:20). Does this relationship create an environment of love and justice? Does it further the creation of loving and sustaining community? Loving relationships stand on the Friends testimony of equality. As people of faith, we celebrate all loving relationships and decry those relationships based on the exploitation of the young, poor and powerless of whatever gender, orientation or age.
“We find that claiming our full sexuality becomes a joyful act of obedience and trust in our Creator's wisdom. When we trust the expression of our sexual identity in a loving and just relationship, our reliance on and commitment to God's revealed leadings is deepened. Doing so compels a sincere and continual search for God’s way in this most intimate and undefended area of our lives. The resulting varieties of relationship and gender identity, in their complex, responsible, rich and surprising range, are a continuing reminder that God's plan is beyond human understanding. “
The Friends Committee on National Legislation, an independent political advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., issued a statement in March 2004 opposing the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment. In the document, “The Proposed Federal Marriage Amendment: Unconstitutional and Divisive,” the FCNL also noted that Friends in the United States had not taken an official position to support full marriage equality for same-sex couples:
“The Religious Society of Friends has not reached unity on the issue of same-sex marriage. Therefore, FCNL does not advocate for or against same-sex marriage. However, as a matter of long-standing FCNL policy, we seek a society free from discrimination, including discrimination based on gender, creed or sexual orientation. We believe that equal treatment by the government of all people is a basic human right, fundamental to the integrity of the law. We oppose adoption of the proposed ‘Marriage Amendment’ to the U.S. Constitution on legal grounds because … the proposed amendment would restrict the civil rights of a particular group and would permanently legalize discrimination against that group by means of the Constitution.”
While none of the three major associations of Friends in the United States has made a statement affirming the right of same-sex couples to marriage equality, the Canadian Yearly Meeting approved a “Minute of Record” in August 2003 stating that individual Friends organizations could decide whether they would recognize marriages between same-sex couples. The statement also supported the right of same-sex couples to enter into legal marriages and noted that same-sex relationships were equal in value to opposite-sex relationships:
“Whether or not to support same-sex marriages is decided at the local Meeting level. Some Meetings have chosen to recognize marriage as open to both opposite- and same-sex couples, and several have taken same-sex marriages under their care, even when these relationships were not recognized in law as marriages. Our experiences and discernment on this issue have been partly shaped by the presence in our community of wonderful, loving, committed same-sex relationships. We have experience of couples in same-sex relationships that are bringing up children in the same loving way we would expect any family we know to do. ‘Love makes a family.’ We strongly object to statements by some religious groups that it is harmful to children to be brought up in same-sex families. Whether a family is a loving and supportive place, or is a harmful place to bring up children, does not depend upon the gender of the parents. We also support the right of same-sex couples to a civil marriage and the extension of the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.”
In January 2004, AFSC also affirmed its support for civil marriage equality:
“We minute our support for equal civil marriage rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people equal to those for heterosexuals. We are aware that many are calling for civil unions for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and some people wish to reserve civil marriage for heterosexual couples alone. It is our belief that government sanction should be applied equally. All couples should be granted civil union licenses or all should be granted marriage licenses.
“In doing so, we are careful to distinguish between civil law, in which no single religious view should predominate, and the right of various faith traditions, denominations and congregations to decide for themselves whether they will perform, support, or recognize the marriages of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Similarly, we wish to distinguish between the necessity for equality in the matter of civil law and coercive governmental “marriage promotion” policies that seek to enforce only one standard of worthiness for people who receive government assistance. We uphold equality in civil law and the principle of free choice in the matter of marriage while rejecting the idea that the worthiness of persons and families is determined by marital status.”
Over the past century, Friends have often been noted for their opposition to discrimination and have been active in many civil rights movements in the United States, including the fight for LGBT equality. Several Friends organizations have issued statements opposing discrimination against LGBT people. For example, in 1974, the Illinois Yearly Meeting approved a statement, called a “Minute,” arguing for non-discrimination laws to protect LGB people and calling for the removal of state sodomy laws:
“Homosexual and bisexual people in this society are subject to serious discrimination in many areas: in employment, housing, medical care, family life education, parental rights and the right to worship. We believe sexual acts in private between consenting adults should be removed from all criminal sanctions. Civil rights should be extended to protect homosexual and bisexual people just as they now protect other groups which suffer discrimination. We urge Friends and Friendly organizations to work for appropriate legislation.”
The Friends United Meeting, one of the three major associations for Friends in the United States, issued a policy statement in 1988, “Minute 88-GB-52,” calling for equal rights protections for gays and lesbians:
“We affirm the civil rights of all people to secular employment, housing, education and health care without regard to their sexual orientation. In particular, we condemn violence, whether verbal or physical, against homosexuals, and call for their full protection under the civil rights laws.”
In a 1999 statement, “A Concern About Sexual and Gender Identity,” AFSC reaffirmed its commitment to LGBT equality, saying:
“We call on Friends and members of the AFSC organization to speak out against any attack on the civil and human rights of persons because of their sexuality or gender identity. We find that some religious rhetoric has been used to deny civil and human rights and, worse, used as justification by those filled with hate to commit violent and aggressive acts against those who only seek to love. We particularly deplore any attack on the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons couched in religious terms or attributed to scriptures. These acts are contrary to our own experience of God.”
Opposition to LGBT Equality
All local Friends organizations are autonomous, and some have not embraced LGBT equality. In fact, some local and regional groups have taken steps to oppose it. In addition, in the Friends United Meeting’s 1988 policy statement, “Minute 88-GB-52,” the association noted that marriage and sex should be confined to opposite-sex couples, also noting that FUM volunteers should abstain from sex outside of opposite-sex marriages:
"We recognize that there is diversity among us on issues of sexuality. For the purpose of our corporate life together, we affirm our traditional testimony that sexual intercourse should be confined to the bonds of marriage, which we understand to be between one man and one woman."
“The lifestyle of volunteers under appointment to Quaker Volunteer Witness, regardless of sexual orientation, should be in accordance with these testimonies.”
Resources for LGBT Friends
- Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns, founded in 1972, is a national Quaker faith community that holds biannual gatherings as well as regional meetings.
- The American Friends Service Committee works nonviolently for peace, human rights, social justice and economic security. A national representative for GLBT issues and four regional programs work for GLBT rights and recognition, with special emphasis on organizing in faith communities and working with youth.
- The Quaker Lesbian Conference organizes fellowship activities for lesbians and bisexual women.
- Friends Committee on National Legislation
Contact the Religious Society of Friends
Please note that the Friends organizations listed below follow differing spiritual leadings in the matter of LGBT rights and recognition.
If you would like to communicate with Evangelical Friends International — North America, here is their mailing address:
World Outreach Center (EFCER)
5350 Broadmoor Circle, NW
Canton, Ohio 4470
If you would like to communicate with the Friends General Conference, here is their mailing address:
Friends General Conference
1216 Arch St #2B
Philadelphia, PA 19107
If you would like to communicate with the Friends United Meeting, here is their mailing address:
Friends United Meeting
101 Quaker Hill Drive
Richmond IN 47374-1980