Responding to the US Supreme Court decision on gay marriage

NEWS | John Sandeman

Monday 29 June 2015

Same sex marriage is now legal across all 50 states of the USA. This change has come about, not in the US Congress, or by any action of President Obama, but by a court case before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

Most states that had already permitted same sex marriage had arrived at the decision because of court action, rather than by vote. In California, a state proposition (similar to a referendum) banning same sex marriage was overturned by a court ruling.

A SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage has been coming for some time, with a number of cases making their way through the system. There’s been clear evidence that judges have been preparing the ground for this ruling in earlier cases.

The SCOTUS ruling declaring that rights to same sex marriage can be derived from the “equal protection” provisions of the US constitution was expected, so there have been many well-considered and most likely pre-written responses. We have collected some of the best.

From After Obergefell v Hodges: First Things Magazine (Ecumenical Christian, conservative)

Ryan Anderson (of the Heritage Foundation):

“The government is not in the marriage business because it’s a sucker for adult romance. No, marriage isn’t just a private affair; marriage is a matter of public policy because marriage is society’s best way to ensure the well-being of children. “State recognition of marriage acts as a powerful social norm that encourages men and women to commit to each other so they will take responsibility for any children that follow.
Redefining marriage to make it a genderless institution fundamentally changes marriage: It makes the relationship more about the desires of adults than about the needs—or rights—of children. It teaches the lie that mothers and fathers are interchangeable.”

Hadley Arkes Law Professor at Amherst College:

Arkes recalls a famously bad US Supreme Court decision – known as the ‘Dred Scott decision’, which asserted that African Americans were not US citizens.

Abraham Lincoln became well-known as an opponent of the decision.

“In the aftermath of the Dred Scott decision, Lincoln came forth with the most penetrating critique, and he proceeded to lead a national movement to counter and overturn that decision. He and his Congress would move through ordinary statutes, before raising the matter to the level of a constitutional amendment.

“All of these ingredients should be in place. Which is to say that it must start with the voice that rings out the depth of the wrong and summons the resistance—that ‘this shall not stand.’ We will learn here right away, from the reactions springing from our political class, just who among our political figures may be up the task and adequate to the moment.”

Christianity Today (evangelical) Editor Mark Galli says that this is not a time to sulk.

“Rejoice. Not in the decision, of course, but “Rejoice in the Lord always,” says Paul, “again I say rejoice.” And elsewhere, “Give thanks to God in all circumstances.” And this paraphrase: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, or prevail against you in the public square because of me. Rejoice and be glad…” (Matt. 5:11).

“Rejoice in what exactly? Let’s just note the big things: That God has not gone anywhere. That Christ’s death and resurrection remain the power of salvation for all. That the gospel still goes forth. That the gates of the Supreme Court or Congress cannot prevail against Christ’s church. That there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That the kingdom will come—and that there remains a great deal of vital work for us to do in the church and in society until that day.”

Charisma Magazine (Pentecostal) Editor Steve Strang:

“I believe… this will remove the wheat from the chaff. It will make Christians decide what they will or won’t go along with. Like the pastors who defied the IRS for taking away their tax-exempt status for preaching about politics on a certain Sunday, I believe the government will back down if we stand strong. If not, we must stand strong anyway.

“At the same time, we must have a Christlike spirit. To quote Rodriguez, we must reject and repudiate all vestiges of homophobia, intolerance and bigotry (toward the LGBT community) while simultaneously building a firewall against intolerance and bigotry toward followers of Christ who preach truth with love.”

Some of America’s most well-known Evangelical leaders have submitted an open ‘declaration on marriage’. Leaders include:
• Russell Moore, President, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
• Jim Daly, President, Focus on the Family
• R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
• David S. Dockery, President, Trinity International University/Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
• D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift. Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not.”

Mark Steyn (conservative Christian gadfly), speaking to radio host Hugh Hewitt said:

“As you know, Hugh, I’m not a believer in Supreme Courts that are as supreme as America’s Supreme Court is.

“I can respect those legislatures from Belgium to Uruguay where the people’s representatives, accountable to their electors, have voted to introduce gay marriage by law. But a system where, in effect, (Supreme Court Justice) Anthony Kennedy gets to decide for 300 million whether he can divine a right to same-sex nuptials that its drafters cannily left tucked discreetly in some or other subordinate clause of the US Constitution is to torture that document beyond rational meaning.”

USA Catholic Bishops describe the decision as a tragic error.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a statement:

“Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.

“The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.”

From the Liberal side

Sojourners, a left leaning Christian group that supports gay marriage wants to avoid a culture war. Benjamin Moberg says, “When the church responds to the news of today, I pray it looks to love. I pray it embodies it.

“Love without action is anemic. And if the non-affirming church wishes to communicate a sincere heart towards LGBTQ people, while opposing their marriages on moral grounds, there are many ways to do so. There is so much work that needs to be done. The kingdom of God is at stake. And we can do this, together.”

Susan Russell, leading gay activist in the Episcopal Church (the US branch of Anglicanism) that is likely to vote this week to change church laws to eliminate barriers gay marriage in that church:

“This is a momentous win for freedom, for equality, for inclusion and most of all for love. It is a day to celebrate with deep joy that our country is one step closer to keeping the promise of the pursuit of liberty and justice for all. Today’s historic ruling means same sex couples will soon have both the freedom to marry and equal respect for their marriages across the country – it is a triumph of justice over bigotry.”

Reactions from Australia

John Dickson, Anglican minister and founder of the Centre for Public Christianity said on Facebook: “If human beings have no intended essence and no ultimate end, today’s US Supreme Court ratification of ‘same sex marriage’ is probably logical and, indeed, inevitable. And so in moments like these, I try to remind myself that if I held secularist assumptions, I would probably follow secularist conclusions.

“Such ponderings tend to modify my instinctive shock, outrage, and judgmental spirit, and foster instead a spirit of lament and cheerfulness (in equal measure) and, above all, prayer.”

Lyle Shelton, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), in a press release:

“Australians should be thankful that our High Court has not resorted to divisive undemocratic judicial activism on marriage,” ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said.

“If Australian activists for redefining marriage believe in democratic principles they will take no joy from the way American judges have forced same-sex marriage upon their nation.

“Today we saw a US court discard both the democratic process and the fundamental legal principle that says the best interests of the child should come first,” Mr Shelton said.

The Supreme Court ruling

Justice Kennedy: the majority opinion

“Finally, it must be emphasised that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

“The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same- sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.”

Chief Justice Roberts’ dissenting opinion

“Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for religious practice. The majority’s decision imposing same- sex marriage cannot, of course, create any such accommodations. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. Ante, at 27. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.”

Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion

“Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me.
“Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact— and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.”

Full text of the Supreme Courts ruling, click here. 

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