A small denomination with approximately 80,000 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.
A small denomination with approximately 80,000 adherents in the United States, the Religious Society of Friends shares common roots in a Christian movement that arose in England during the middle of the 17th century. Separations over time have resulted in different branches of Friends that emphasize different parts of this common history. Today, there are at least three distinct branches of Friends: Friends General Conference (representing “liberal” unprogrammed Quakers), Friends United Meeting (representing mostly mainline pastoral Meetings), and Friends Evangelical Friends Church International (representing the most evangelical pastoral branch).
Friends or Quaker congregations, known as communities or meetings, are almost completely autonomous. Because there is no central authority that speaks for all Quakers, modern Friends exhibit significant variations in the ways they interpret their traditions and practice their beliefs, including matters related to LGBTQ equality.
Many Quaker communities are open and welcoming to LGBTQ people, and an increasing number take the marriages and unions of LGBTQ couples under their care. Others hold differing views on a wide range of LGBTQ issues, including non-discrimination, civil marriage rights, support for families headed by LGBTQ people, and spiritual equality.
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 LGBTQ people were welcome in their religious community. It states,“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 (AFSC), an independent Quaker organization working nonviolently for peace, human rights and social and economic justice, has been involved in advocacy for LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ equality: “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."
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.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), 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.
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.
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 LGBTQ equality. Several Friends organizations have issued statements opposing discrimination against LGBTQ 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 gay and lesbian people: “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 LGBTQ 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.”
Friends differ from many Christian bodies on the question of the ordained ministry and have no formal ordination process.
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.
If you would like to communicate with Evangelical Friends International —Eastern, 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
The Human Rights Campaign reports on news, events and resources of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that are of interest to the general public and further our common mission to support the LGBTQ community.