Just as Roe v. Wade didn’t end the abortion debate, it’s unlikely the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage via the Obergefell v. Hodges case will stop our nation’s passionate discussion on marriage.
On the contrary, I suspect the forthcoming ruling will mark the beginning of a long and protracted controversy about not only marriage, but religious freedom.
Before I answer the question, let’s briefly look to the possible outcomes expected at the end of the month.
1. The Court recognizes that, the Constitution being silent on the issue of marriage, Americans are free to safeguard marriage as the union between one man and one woman through the democratic process. In this scenario, states are not compelled to recognize same-sex marriages licensed in other states. This would be the least damaging decision the court could make.
2. The Court decides that while there’s no constitutional “right” to same-sex marriage, states that adhere to God’s design for marriage will be compelled to recognize same-sex marriages licensed by other states.
That means that traditional marriage states would have to provide all the same rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples married elsewhere, eventually leading to a de facto redefinition of marriage in the entire nation. While this does vindicate our position that there is no constitutional “right” to same-sex marriage, this decision would still negatively impact parental rights in education and religious liberties and conscience rights of business owners and others across the country.
3. The Supreme Court somehow finds a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, thus legalizing such unions at the federal and state levels across the entire country. This would automatically redefine all states’ marriage laws, overturning 31 democratically enacted marriage amendments and ignoring the will of more than 60 percent of American voters who have cast ballots to maintain the traditional definition of marriage in their states.
As you can see, two out of the three most likely outcomes include an immediate or eventual redefinition of marriage – and as much as we are praying and hoping for the first outcome, many analysts believe it’s a longshot.
This means that it’s entirely realistic to anticipate the Court might impose a definition of marriage on a country that’s deeply divided on this important issue. For many of us, this decision would counter our deeply held faith beliefs and directly infringe upon our religious freedoms.
If Roe v. Wade has taught us anything, it’s that Americans don’t simply acquiesce to rule by decree when it comes to these deep moral issues.
When the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision 42 years ago, the New York Times famously claimed it was a “historic resolution of a fiercely controversial issue.”
We now know nothing could have been further from the truth.
As Matthew J. Franck notes in his excellent article at the National Review, Roe v. Wade helps us make an educated guess as to what the future holds if the Court finds a constitutional “right” to same-sex marriage:
“Given the high respect paid to pronouncements of the Supreme Court (an unaccountable phenomenon to those of us who study it for a living), a drop in support for the traditional meaning of marriage would be no surprise after a decision to redefine it. And young people in particular, more thoroughly marinated than their elders in the moral fashions of the day, already accept same-sex marriage in high proportions. It is easily forgotten, however, that Roe too was followed by a brief burst of support, especially among the young. But the mockery Roe made of the Constitution, the ideological tyrannies it inspired, and most of all the very real horrors of its effects have caused it to be viewed increasingly as the Dred Scott of our times, and pro-life sentiment has grown.
“A Supreme Court diktat removing the central pillar of sexual complementarity from the law of marriage would not … go down in history as a happy or easy victory over bigotry. The cascade of bad effects, legal and sociological, would come rolling in for years to come. Leaders of the conservative religious communities in America would stand fast, for freedom and for family. Each new generation would witness the consequences, and the merits of the historic understanding of marriage would over time recover their rightful place in the public mind.”
Far from “settling” the issue of marriage, a draconian ruling that ignores our country’s Constitution, democratic tradition and, as Justice Anthony Kennedy put it, a “definition [of marriage that] has been with us for millennia” will, I suspect, only serve to awaken the Church and those who recognize the unmatched contributions of traditional marriage to society.
Again, please understand this: whatever happens at the end of the month when the Supreme Court hands down its decision on Obergefell v. Hodges, the marriage issue won’t be resolved. On the contrary, it will likely usher in the start of another long chapter of social experimentation in American history.
As the Church we need to recognize that, no matter what happens, God is still in charge. Therefore, if the Supreme Court doesn’t rule as we hope it will, we must not lose hope. Our marriage mandate will continue to compel us to promote and advocate for God’s design, and to seek to model it well in our lives.
Even if the Court rules in our favor, we can’t take a moment’s rest. We have to realize that the nation is deeply divided on this issue and there is much we can do to show our fellow citizens – especially the younger generation – that one man, one woman marriage is not only God’s design, but it’s also a model that simply makes sense.
Whatever the case, let’s not forget real lives are touched by whatever the Supreme Court decides. One of the primary reasons we care so deeply about the outcome is because we care so deeply about the welfare of the people personally impacted by bad law.
We grieve for the child who won’t have both a father and a mother.
We empathize with the woman whose husband divorces her in order to pursue “marriage” with another man.
Our hearts break for the florist who sits on the verge of bankruptcy because she refuses to provide a bouquet for a same-sex “wedding.”
We ache for the conflicted same-sex-attracted individual who won’t find peace in his heart because of this ruling.
To be sure, there are those who misinterpret our stand for marriage and ascribe false motives to our beliefs. They may hurl the “hate” and “bigot” epithets for political gain or to silence debate. Likewise, I must admit, some claiming the Christian label have been cruel and harsh toward the homosexual community and that is equally wrong.
So as we prepare for this historic decision, it’s good to remember to speak with words seasoned with salt. Let us “live a life worthy of the calling we have received” (Ephesians 4:1) and serve as humble, loving witnesses to our Lord Jesus Christ and His truth. Remember, it’s “God’s kindness that leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4), so let us show that loving kindness as we engage the culture on this important issue.
I’d like to hear from you: how do you think the nation will react to the Supreme Court marriage decision? How should the Church react?