SCOTUS gay marriage rulings: what should we think?
Published: 29 June 2013 (GMT+10)
On 26 June, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) delivered two rulings regarding laws regulating same-sex unions:
- The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which stated that couples in same-sex unions could not receive federal marriage benefits, even if they were legally married in their state, was overturned. This means that homosexual couples who are recognized as married in their state will also receive federal marriage benefits such as tax benefits.
- The court refused to reconsider Proposition 8, the California state law banning same-sex marriages. The state refused to appeal its loss at a lower level court, and the SCOTUS ruled that the private parties who attempted to bring it to the Supreme Court did not have the constitutional authority or standing to do so. This decision was carefully written so as not to invalidate the laws of other states banning same-sex marriage.
It is easy to become discouraged when the culture heads increasingly away from a biblical understanding of morality, and the redefining of marriage in America is one of the more visible indications that society no longer accepts a Christian consensus.
However, we can be thankful for several things:
- In striking down DOMA, the Supreme Court affirmed the states’ rights to decide the issue. This could make it more difficult to impose gay marriage on a federal level, because the justices more inclined to affirm same-sex marriage have now argued strongly that it is an area for the states to decide. More conservative states have already passed bans on gay marriage, so these appear to be safe, for now.
- The dissenting justices in the DOMA case gave excellent summaries of the history of affirming heterosexual marriage as a society. They also reveal the ideological motivations that could be behind the majority ruling.
- Nothing in the rulings affects Christian freedoms regarding our ability to follow Scripture or clearly teach the biblical view of marriage. However, there is a danger that could follow from the fallacious reasoning behind the decision, as Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent pointed out:
But to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage”, “injure”, “degrade”, “demean”, and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.”The term hostis humani generis used by Scalia (in the plural) has historically been used for criminals like pirates and more recently terrorists who were operating outside national boundaries. So they were declared to be enemies of the whole human race, not just of a country, so not deserving of any protection by law and subject to summary execution if caught. It’s conceivable that pro–gay-marriage politicians and judges could exploit the SCOTUS ruling to argue that any opponents are bigots trying to hurt homosexuals, so deserve legal punishments like fines or imprisonment. This has happened in other countries where gay ‘marriage’ has been legalized.
How should we respond?
We should remember that God works through His people. We should be active in lovingly sharing the truth of the Gospel, starting in creation, with all unbelievers, including homosexuals. Would homosexuals be able to paint as convincing a portrait of hateful Christians as they do if Christians were more intentional about building relationships with gay men and women, and simply treating them as they would anyone else?
As counterintuitive as it may sound, gay marriage is not the issue—sin is. The difference is that homosexual sin in particular is celebrated in the mainstream culture today, so people who have an inclination toward that sin are encouraged, and even protected regarding their right to practice it. The question isn’t whether sexual desires can be restricted in the law—we already do that with regard to pedophilia, incest, and polygamy (the latter two are better examples because they regulate relationships even between consenting adults who love each other). Rather, homosexuality is no longer seen as something abnormal or unhealthy, but something equal to a heterosexual relationship.
We can also pray for our political leaders as Scripture commands us to—that God will both enable them to legislate for the good of the country (and no law that contradicts Scripture can ever be good for the country), and also prevent them from immoral rulings.
We are not the first Christians to live in a sexually immoral culture—the first Christians were. The Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day was full of sexual immorality; one can get an idea simply by reading 1 Corinthians the sorts of issues the Church had to deal with. Homosexuality, prostitution, unfaithfulness in marriage, and all sorts of other problems were common. But Paul simply proclaimed the Gospel that overcomes every sin—not through laws and court cases, but through changing the heart of one person at a time. That Gospel hasn’t changed; it is as powerful today as it was in Paul’s day. So we should be tremendously encouraged as we share it in our culture.
Don’t disengage from the battle
We have always believed that the way to change a culture is to change hearts and minds towards Christ—this is the nature of the Gospel. It could be argued that one of the reasons courts and political leaders actually support gay marriage is because (wrongly or rightly) they perceive that this is a discriminated group, and so they act to defend them.
God has demonstrated His love to all sinners, including you and me. The transforming power of Christ’s love changes lives. We need to be mindful to ensure our arguments do not attack the individuals and that we too are loving in pointing out the issues.
Exciting new resource to help equip believers!
At the time of the publication of this article, my colleague Gary Bates and I are in the final stages of completing a booklet on this subject. It has a firm, but loving approach that we believe will be helpful to Christians in debating this hot button issue—particularly for those Christians who have family members who have declared themselves to be homosexual.
You can be informed when this booklet will be available by subscribing to our Infobytes email newsletter and Creation Daily.