The Supreme Court delivered its rulings yesterday on United States vs. Windsor and Hollingsworth vs. Perry. Windsor concerned the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) while Perry focused on the attempt to uphold Proposition 8 in California.
SCOTUS Blog summarized Windsor in plain English:
The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage,” for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.
But what has changed for us, for our churches, and our witness to the gospel?
In one sense, nothing. Jesus of Nazareth is still alive. He is calling the cosmos toward his kingdom, and he will ultimately be Lord indeed. Regardless of what happens with marriage, the gospel doesn’t need “family values” to flourish. In fact, it often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it. That’s why the gospel rocketed out of the first-century from places such as Ephesus and Philippi and Corinth and Rome, which were hardly Mayberry.
In another sense, though, the marginalization of conjugal marriage in American culture has profound implications for our gospel witness. First of all, marriage isn’t incidental to gospel preaching.
There’s a reason why persons don’t split apart like amoebas. We were all conceived in the union between a man and a woman. Beyond the natural reality, the gospel tells us there’s a cosmic mystery (Eph. 5:32).
God designed the one-flesh union of marriage as an embedded icon of the union between Christ and his church. Marriage and sexuality, among the most powerful pulls in human existence, are designed to train humanity to recognize, in the fullness of time, what it means for Jesus to be one with his church, as a head with a body.
That means that we must repent of our pathetic marriage cultures within the church. For too long, we’ve refused to discipline a divorce culture that has ravaged our cultures. For too long, we’ve quieted our voices on the biblical witness of the distinctive missions of fathers and mothers in favor of generic messages on “parenting.”
For too long, we’ve acted as though the officers of Christ’s church were Justices of the Peace, marrying people who have no accountability to the church, and in many cases were forbidden by Scripture to marry. Just because we don’t have two brides or two grooms in front of us, that doesn’t mean we’ve been holding to biblical marriage.
The dangerous winds of religious liberty suppression means that our nominal Bible Belt marrying parson ways are over. Good riddance. This means we have the opportunity, by God’s grace, to take marriage as seriously as the gospel does, in a way that prompts the culture around us to ask why.
The increased attention to the question of marriage also gives us the opportunity to love our gay and lesbian neighbors as Jesus does. Some will capitulate on a Christian sexual ethic. There are always those professional “dissidents” who make a living espousing mainline Protestant shibboleths to an evangelical market. But the church will stand, and that means the gospel Jesus has handed down through the millennia. As we stand with conviction, we don’t look at our gay and lesbian neighbors as our enemies. They are not.
The gay and lesbian people in your community aren’t part of some global “Gay Agenda” conspiracy. They aren’t super-villains in some cartoon. They are, like all of us, seeking a way that seems right to them. If we believe marriage is as resilient as Jesus says it is (Mk. 10:6-9), it cannot be eradicated by a vote of justices or a vote of a state legislature. Some will be disappointed by what they thought would answer their quest for meaning. Will our churches be ready to answer?
Joe Carter wrote a helpful “nine things you need to know” post for TGC. (And published it almost immediately after the decisions were announced.)
Andrew Sullivan live-blogged through the announcements and then posted initial reactions to both Justice Kennedy’s majority decision and Scalia’s dissent in Windsor. (Windsor will be the main story, Perry‘s fallout will be fairly limited–same-sex marriage is legal in California, but it doesn’t directly dictate what states can or cannot do in defining marriage for themselves.)
Emily Posner had a depressingly plausible explanation of the decision at Slate:
Trying to find a jurisprudential explanation for this opinion, like the opinions in Fisher and Shelby Country, is a fool’s errand. Same-sex marriage is advancing while affirmative action is receding because that’s what the relevant majorities of the justices care about.
Christianity Today has several good pieces about the decision. First, they have a set of responses from Tim Dalrymple, Jim Daly, and Elodie Ballantine Emig on how the church should respond. They also posted live updates throughout the day and featured a piece on the decision from Ed Stetzer. Finally, Andy Crouch wrote an essay for the print issue that they put online yesterday looking at the importance of the body in understanding sexuality issues:
The proliferation of initials signals the formation of a powerful coalition. But it also reminds us of the important differences between the members of that coalition. Christians cannot simply accept or reject “same-sex marriage” and think we have settled our sexual ethics. The LGBTQIA coalition has other challenges for the church.
There is really only one conviction that can hold this coalition of disparate human experiences together. And it is the irrelevance of bodies—specifically, the irrelevance of biological sexual differentiation in how we use our bodies.
What unites the LGBTQIA coalition is a conviction that human beings are not created male and female in any essential or important way. What matters is not one’s body but one’s heart—the seat of human will and desire, which only its owner can know.
Christians will have to choose between two consistent positions. One, which we believe Christians who affirm gay and lesbian unions will ultimately have to embrace, is to say that embodied sexual differentiation is irrelevant—completely, thoroughly, totally irrelevant—to covenant faithfulness.
The proof text for this view will be that in Christ, there is neither male nor female. And as with all readings based on proof texts, upholding it will require openly discarding a vast expanse of other biblical material, the many biblical voices (including Jesus’) that affirm and elucidate the significance of male-and-female creation.
As this view gains traction in our culture, the created givenness of bodies must give way to the achievement of ascertaining, announcing, and fulfilling one’s own internally discerned desires, with no normative reference to the body one happens to inhabit. It is no accident that as normative sexuality has been redefined, from an essentially exterior reality uniting male and female bodies to an essentially interior reality expressing one’s heart, the charges of bigotry have been heard more fiercely against those who hold the traditional Christian view. How dare we Christians speak against any person’s heart?
Marriage, which has always been “unequal,” yoking together two very different kinds of bodies, must now be “equal,” measured only by the sincerity of one’s love and commitment. To insist on the importance of bodies is to challenge the sovereign self, to suggest that our ethical options are limited by something we did not choose.
There is one other consistent position that Christians can hold, though we will hold it at great social cost, at least for the foreseeable future: that bodies matter. Indeed, that both male and female bodies are of ultimate value and dignity—not a small thing given the continuing denigration of women around the world.
Indeed, that matter matters. For behind the dismissal of bodies is ultimately a gnostic distaste for embodiment in general. To uphold a biblical ethic on marriage is to affirm the sweeping scriptural witness—hardly a matter of a few isolated “thou shalt not” verses—that male and female together image God, that the creation of humanity as male and female is “very good,” and that “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18, NRSV).
Sexual differentiation (along with its crucial outcome of children, who have a biological connection to two parents but are not mirror images of either one) is not an accident of evolution or a barrier to fulfillment. It is in fact the way God is imaged, and the way fruitfulness, diversity, and abundance are sustained in the world.
Alex Seitz-Wald profiled the most powerful man in America, justice Anthony Kennedy.
A statement released by Catholic bishops was posted at First Things.
Get Religion highlighted the divide amongst Catholics on the issue.
The New Yorker made the point that the reasoning for striking down DOMA was key and bodes well for SSM proponents.
Scalia has chillingly illuminated the future for marriage traditionalists: the only reason to oppose same-sex marriage is hate. In constitutional law, there is no rational basis for supporting traditional marriage. Henceforth, the Court has declared open season on religious and social conservatives and their institutions. Given the majority’s holding that hatred is the only plausible explanation for denying same-sex marriage, I see no reason why the Supreme Court will not declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right.
And the logic of the Court’s language here ought to put fear into the hearts of anyone who does not share the belief that homosexuality is morally neutral, or morally good. The Supreme Court says we are haters, full stop. You know the liberal mind: thoughtcrime cannot be allowed to exist. How can the federal government maintain a tax exemption for churches that hew to the Biblical teaching on homosexuality, given that the Supreme Court now has put opposition to homosexuality in the same category as racism? We live in interesting times.
Kevin Drum took a closer look at the Perry ruling and came away from it feeling very unsatisfied:
With today’s decision, the Supreme Court is basically gutting the people’s right to pass initiatives that elected officials don’t like and then to defend them all the way to the highest court in the land.
To me, this has neither the flavor of justice nor of democratic governance, regardless of whether I like the outcome.