After Obergefell: A First Things Symposium
6 . 27 . 15
How should we respond to the ruling by the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage? What’s next?
These are the question that we asked the following contributors—male and female, gay and straight, Christian and Jewish, Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox—to answer in this First Things symposium. –Ed.
How should we respond to the ruling by the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage? What’s next?
These are the question that we asked the following contributors—male and female, gay and straight, Christian and Jewish, Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox—to answer in this First Things symposium. –Ed.
Ryan T. Anderson:
The Court’s ruling is a significant setback for all Americans who believe in the Constitution, the rule of law, democratic self-government, and marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The Court got it wrong: it should not have mandated all fifty states to redefine marriage.
This is judicial activism: nothing in the Constitution requires the redefinition of marriage, and the Court imposed its judgment about a policy matter that should be decided by the American people and their elected representatives. The Court got marriage and the Constitution wrong today just like they got abortion and the Constitution wrong 42 years ago with Roe v. Wade. Five unelected judges do not have the power to change the truth about marriage or the truth about the Constitution.
We must work to restore the constitutional authority of citizens and their elected officials to make marriage policy that reflects the truth about marriage. We the People must explain what marriage is, why marriage matters, and why redefining marriage is bad for society.
For marriage policy to serve the common good it must reflect the truth that marriage unites a man and a woman as husband and wife so that children will have both a mother and a father. Marriage is based on the anthropological truth that men and woman are distinct and complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children deserve a mother and a father.
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.
Because the Court has inappropriately redefined marriage everywhere, there is urgent need for policy to ensure that the government never penalizes anyone for standing up for marriage. As discussed in my new book, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, we must work to protect the freedom of speech, association, and religion of those who continue to abide by the truth of marriage as union of man and woman.
At the federal level, the First Amendment Defense Act is a good place to start. It says that the federal government cannot discriminate against people and institutions that speak and act according to their belief that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. States need similar policies.
Recognizing the truth about marriage is good public policy. Today’s decision is a significant set-back to achieving that goal. We must work to reverse it and recommit ourselves to building a strong marriage culture because so much of our future depends upon it.
Ryan T. Anderson is William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and author of the forthcoming book Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom.
We had no reason, of course, to be surprised by the outcome today. The most we could do was cling to the hope that the result might be less astounding and sweeping than it was. But Anthony Kennedy put in place the decisive premises nineteen years ago in Romer v. Evans: the aversion to the homosexual life could be explained only by an irrational “animus.” After that, it was just a matter of watching as things unfolded: there was no justification for incorporating in the laws an adverse moral judgment on the homosexual life, and the laws that refused to recognize, as a marriage, the coupling of two men or two women, could not then be “justified.”
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 But it may not be a man in office, or someone running for anything. Rick Santelli, emitting a cri de coeur on CNBC, triggered the coming of the Tea Party movement. A Robert George, with the attention properly focused, might accomplish the same thing.
But next, it is absolutely critical that Congress puts its hand in. And not merely with the proposal for a constitutional amendment, which cannot make it now out of Congress, but with a statute that tests the limits. There is a principle here running deep, which some of us have sought to restore on the matter of abortion: It is simply not compatible with the moral logic of the separation of powers that the Supreme Court can articulate new “rights” under the Constitution, whether a right to abortion, or a right to same-sex marriage, and then assign to itself a monopoly of the legislative power in shaping that right. The judges should understand that they cannot keep sole control of what they’ve sprung upon the country.
One possibility to put on the table is Carrie Severino’s Defense of Monogamous Marriage Act (DOMMA) to bar polygamy explicitly. Justice Kennedy disclaims that implication arising from his decision, but without explaining how his reasoning would bar that result. Let the Democrats have to take positions on this matter now, and many of them will not vote against polygamy or polyamory. In the call to the resistance we should have something precise to focus on, and this will do as well as anything else.
Ted Cruz had signaled his willingness to make the first move to introduce a constitutional amendment. His amendment would simply deal with the fact that five lawyers have now swept away the laws on marriage in this country. I understand that. But my sense right now is that it may be harder to summon the passions of the country for the passions of the Federalist Society. If we’re doing this at all, we might as well move to the heart of the question, and the thing that all people understand even if they haven’t been to law school: that marriage is about the union of one man and one woman.
Neither amendment has a chance of passing this Congress, and so we should jar ourselves to recall that in a situation radically new we may need to think anew; we may need to look again at the path that has been open but rarely if ever taken: It would be easier to get a movement going from within twenty to thirty states calling for a Constitutional Convention than it would be to launch a constitutional amendment in Congress. Many of our friends have recoiled from that prospect out of a fear that such a Convention may not be confined to this subject—that it may produce novelties and harms unforeseen. But to them I would earnestly say: Wake up to the depth of the crisis before your eyes. And I beseech you earnestly to consider: What lurking dangers unforeseen could plausibly be worse than the dangers that are upon us right now, with the threat of destroying religious schools and churches, and remolding the moral understanding of everyone else, as the culture war is carried, with conviction undiminished, to its further reaches. To draw again on Lincoln, may the vast future not lament our failure to do what we still have it within our means to do.
Hadley Arkes is the Edward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College.
The only immediately satisfying response to this decision and to the many reversals social and religious conservatives have suffered in recent years that I can think of is financial.
As Patrick Deneen wrote in his First Things essay, “The Power Elite,” corporations have acted squarely against conservative persons and principles. They have pressured judges and politicians and organizations to stand down on social issues, as the Indiana episode a few months back illustrated so well.
It’s time for conservatives to apply principles to their purses. Coca-Cola, ESPN, and Walmart are prominent cases of corporate culture warfare, and every time a conservative buys a Coke, watches SportsCenter, or enters the megastore, he helps them do their damage. No conservative likes to turn his consumption into a political act, but when producers enter social issues that have nothing to do with their products, and do so as partisans, the step is forced upon him.
Conservative leaders, activists, writers, commentators, priests and pastors, rabbis and imams, and celebrities should urge their audiences and congregations to avoid those businesses. Religious institutions should terminate their relationships with them.
This isn’t to be understood as a boycott. Conservatives may or may not send notice of their decision to the corporations’ “Contact Us” pages. Big Business isn’t going to respond to conservatives as they have responded to progressivist advocates, anyway. The model shouldn’t be the Montgomery bus boycott. It should be Thoreau refusing to pay his tax because his money may go to buy guns for use in Mexico. Conservatives will drink other sodas and shop at local, small stores because they don’t want their money to pay for anti-conservative intimidation any more. They won’t stop the momentum of our day, but at least they will act more consistently with their faith.
Mark Bauerlein is senior editor of First Things and professor of English at Emory University.
Misfortune engenders the obligation of repentance, teaches Judaism. Only yesterday, when the notion of overturning the traditional conception of marriage seemed like a far-fetched fantasy, too many of us put too many of our eggs in the psychological illness basket, condoning on pseudo-ideological grounds therapies that, in our hearts, we knew were a waste of money, the cause of false hope and misplaced guilt. Worse, many of us tolerated without protest bigoted and vulgar voices alien to our sense of decency and outside the bounds of God-fearing discourse. Shall we take umbrage now when those whom we allowed to be humiliated turn their resentment and intolerance on us and on the religion we represent? For this we must repent, before God and before our fellow men.
When a culture treats the family primarily as an arena for self-fulfillment and self-expression rather than first and foremost as the sphere dedicated to the education of future generations, that culture manifests a weakening of its faith in the abiding value and imperative power of its core beliefs. That this spirit of “negation and despair” has corroded liberal Western culture, to its detriment, is an old story. Justice Alito’s dissent notes the rate of illegitimate birth, and nobody is shocked at the routine acceptance of marital infidelity and instability. All this is ominous for the sustainability of Western civilization. To outsiders, however, it appears inconsistent and selective to judge practicing homosexuals, for whom same-sex impulses are usually deep-seated, more strictly than wanton adulterers. If the bonds of faithfulness have frayed, a 5-4 vote in the other direction would not have reversed the ravages of the sexual revolution, the fruit of chronic secular despair under the progressive commodification of late capitalism.
Of course the court’s decision, preempting further debate on the future of marriage as a secular institution, is dismaying to advocates of limited interpretation who oppose the proliferation of novel fundamental and fashionable rights, not least because the newly discovered rights inevitably collide with the rights explicitly enumerated in the Constitution, such as freedom of religion. No doubt upholders of traditional religion will encounter both legal and extralegal pressures from their political masters. My Jewish students are at ease in liberal democracies, unaccustomed to suffering serious penalty or widespread ostracism for their beliefs and way of life. I am not sure how well they will withstand the surging pressure to conform. I am not sure how, and how well, the upholders of traditional religion, and their institutions, will be protected in days to come.
For now, my obligation, and that of other simple believers, is to repent what has been done amiss, and to pursue lives of personal and communal wholesomeness and fortitude, suffused by aspiration, dedication and progressive growth towards personal purity and sanctity. Sanctity begins in the intimacy of self and community. If the witness of such lives helps us to gain tolerance, as I hope, that is good; if it inspires others to join us, even better.
Shalom Carmy teaches Jewish Studies and Philosophy at Yeshiva University and is editor of Tradition, the theological journal sponsored by the Rabbinical Council of America.
What has been most striking all along is not the division, the passion, at times the vitriol. What has been most remarkable is the insistence by same-sex marriage proponents that all dissent be silenced—whether through threats of economic destruction, legal bludgeoning, and now, increasingly by appeal to the raw power of the State. The firing of Brendan Eich was a bellwether for what has now become a commonplace: the fanatical insistence that all opposition be squelched, and more—that even belief in an alternative view of marriage be eradicated. In the days since the decision, one newspaper editor has declared that his paper will no longer publish any op-eds that diverge from the “settled” law of the land (as Brandon McGinley shrewdly notes, no such ban has been instituted over opposition to Citizens United), while another analyst has suggested that the dissenting Justices have engaged in “treason.”
While many have pointed to the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade as an obvious historical analogue for the Obergefell decision, to my mind, the insistence that all must conform to the new, official definition of marriage that no civilization has ever endorsed until yesterday seems to be more aptly compared to life under Communism. The likening of “denial” of same-sex marriage to racial bigotry has proven to be a wildly successful tactic—but it is premised on a lie, the lie that the conjugal view of marriage has as little basis in reason or nature as denial of basic rights to people based upon the color of their skin. The analogy’s success has relied upon the loud and insistent demand that we not notice, nor regard as relevant or germane, the fact that men and women are different, and most importantly, that their sexual union is oriented toward reproduction.
The “monopoly of violence” possessed by the State is now a main weapon in perpetuating this lie, and will be used mercilessly and without cessation against those who persist on pointing out that it seeks to perpetuate a lie. But violence will serve as a last resort, merely backstopping the education system, the economic players, and even family members who will work to correct wayward thinkers (the divisions in families will make what is to come like a Cold Civil War). Like communism’s comprehensive efforts to root out dissent and “re-educate” people to regard all property as common and our care for all people of the world equal and without distinction, the very depth and extent of the lie requires that the lie be insistently repeated and dissent be comprehensively squelched.
“Lies can only persist by violence,” wrote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The bolder and falser the lie, the more insistent the calls to conformity, and the elimination of dissent. As during the years when the Gulag was the alternative (though the “Gulag” today is financial bankruptcy and professional suicide), the easy path was to go along, accept the order in spite of its absurdity, get ahead according to the rules established by those who ruled. But Solzhenitsyn said no—even to the point of arrest and exile. “Therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!”
And against those who dare to deny the lie, watch them explode in anger, mockery, denunciation, threats and finally the prospect of ruin and imposition of State-sponsored violence. And know that when they do, it is not a sign of their power, but their fear that the lie might be seen for what it is in the light of truth.
Patrick Deneen is the David A. Potenziani Memorial Associate Professor of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
Earlier this year, First Things published an essay of mine calling for the “Benedict Option,” my term for a radical rethinking of the place of small-o orthodox Christians in the public square. My belief, in a nutshell, is that the common culture—insofar as we have one—is so far gone into decadence and individualism that the only sensible thing for us to do is to strategically retreat from the mainstream to strengthen our Christian commitments, and our church communities. The Obergefell ruling, I think, only makes the necessity of the Benedict Option more urgent.
Why? Because as Justice Samuel Alito pointed out in his dissent, forces in our culture that wish to smash all dissent from LGBT orthodoxy will use the Supreme Court’s constitutional imprimatur as license to marginalize and persecute we who believe in Biblical teaching. Chief Justice John Roberts portentously warned Christians that the weak First Amendment assurances in the majority opinion would scarcely protect us. These are not wild-eyed prophets crying in the desert; these are Supreme Court justices, telling us that the Court majority—a majority that, let’s not kid ourselves, speaks for the Zeitgeist—cannot be relied on to respect the rule of law when religious practice contradicts gay rights. Justice Antonin Scalia even raised the spectre of the end of democracy—a claim that earned this magazine a tsunami of opprobrium when it deployed those words in 1996, but which today was a central part of a dissenting Supreme Court opinion.
Conditions are about to get much worse for us. We must reflect soberly on this fact, and act wisely, but decisively. Just over a decade ago, Robert Louis Wilken, writing in First Things, said that the greatest danger facing the Church is forgetfulness. That is, in our post-Christian culture, we are rapidly losing memory of what it means to be a faithful Christian. “Nothing is more needful today than the survival of Christian culture, because in recent generations this culture has become dangerously thin,” he wrote. “At this moment in the Church’s history in this country (and in the West more generally) it is less urgent to convince the alternative culture in which we live of the truth of Christ than it is for the Church to tell itself its own story and to nurture its own life.”
We lost the culture long before we lost the Supreme Court. Research by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith shows that most young American Christians have exchanged the orthodox faith, in all its iterations, for a pseudo-religion he calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The culture war is no longer between the church and the world, but is now well established within the church. This, I think, is why Wilken’s counsel is far more vital today, after Obergefell. The pressure to apostasize under persecution from the state and within civil society (we are all Brendan Eich now) will be overwhelming. True, we cannot retreat from evangelizing the world, but we Christians need a radically new approach suited to these post-Christian times. If we are to endure as the Church, and to be what the world needs us to be, we have to pioneer new ways of living out our faith in community, in a chaotic and hostile culture. Alasdair MacIntyre famously said that we need a “new—and doubtless very different—St. Benedict.” The most important task for the Church today is to figure out, with hope but also with a sense of realism, how to be St. Benedicts.
What else is there?
Rod Dreher is a senior editor at the American Conservative.
Robert P. George:
How shall we respond to a lawless decision in which the Supreme Court by the barest of majorities usurps authority vested by the Constitution in the people and their elected representatives? By letting Abraham Lincoln be our guide. Faced with the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, Lincoln declared the ruling to be illegitimate and vowed that he would treat it as such. He squarely faced Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s claim to judicial supremacy and firmly rejected it. To accept it, he said, would be for the American people “to resign their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”
Today we are faced with the same challenge. Like the Great Emancipator, we must reject and resist an egregious act of judicial usurpation. We must, above all, tell the truth: Obergefell v. Hodges is an illegitimate decision. What Stanford Law School Dean John Ely said of Roe v. Wade applies with equal force to Obergefell: “It is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.” What Justice Byron White said of Roe is also true of Obergefell: It is an act of “raw judicial power.” The lawlessness of these decisions is evident in the fact that they lack any foundation or warrant in the text, logic, structure, or original understanding of the Constitution. The justices responsible for these rulings, whatever their good intentions, are substituting their own views of morality and sound public policy for those of the people and their elected representatives. They have set themselves up as superlegislators possessing a kind of plenary power to impose their judgments on the nation. What could be more unconstitutional—more anti-constitutional—than that?
The rule of law is not the rule of lawyers—even lawyers who are judges. Supreme Court justices are not infallible, nor are they immune from the all-too-human temptation to unlawfully seize power that has not been granted to them. Decisions such as Dred Scott, Roe v. Wade, and Obergefell amply demonstrate that. In thinking about how to respond to Obergefell, we must bear in mind that it is not only the institution of marriage that is at stake here—it is also the principle of self-government. And so we must make clear to those candidates for high offices who are seeking our votes, that our willingness to support them depends on their willingness to stand, as Abraham Lincoln stood, for the Constitution, and therefore against judicial decisions—about marriage or anything else—that threaten to place us, to quote Jefferson, “under the despotism of an oligarchy.”
Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.
In the summer of 2009, the late Charles W. Colson, Professor Robert P. George, and I drafted the Manhattan Declaration which called on Christian believers of all denominations to stand fast in support of what we deemed to be the three most pressing moral issues of our time, namely: the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death, the dignity of marriage as God intended it be, a lifelong conjugal and covenantal union between one man and one woman, and religious freedom for all persons. Now, in the summer of 2015, the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges undermines marriage and threatens religious freedom.
The erosion of the marriage culture has happened quickly. For example, in 2009, newly elected President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton both affirmed the understanding of marriage set forth in the Manhattan Declaration. The Supreme Court’s dictum today does not bode well for the future of our democracy. The ability to decide such a fundamental matter related to the flourishing of family life and the integrity of the common good has been taken away from the people and their elected representatives in each of the fifty states.
Christians who may be discouraged by this turn of events should take heart by considering three other Supreme Court decisions of the past. Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) denied the rights of citizenship to African Americans. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) authorized race discrimination under the pretext of “separate but equal.” Roe v.Wade (1973) asserted a right to take the life of children still waiting to be born. The first two decisions were subsequently overturned by constitutional amendment and subsequent court action.
There is no guarantee the same thing will happen with today’s decision. But Christians should work toward the reaffirmation of marriage as it has been maintained across all civilizations and in our own country until the very recent past.
Marriage, like religious freedom and life itself, is fundamentally a gift from God, not a contrivance of our government or any government. As we wrote in the closing words of the Manhattan Declaration: “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”
Timothy George is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University.
In his memoir Denial: My Twenty-Five Years Without a Soul, the gay journalist Jonathan Rauch says that there once existed a frightened young man tortured with the certainty that there was no place in the world for the love he experienced. That man was Rauch, and there was no home for him—none, that is, until he and his fellow Americans decided he had the right to marry. “They and he have found, at last, a name for his soul. It is not monster or eunuch. Nor indeed homosexual. It is: husband.”
When I read Rauch’s book, that last sentence left a lump in my throat. That receiving the word husband felt to Rauch like the relief of a negative biopsy—“You’re not sick or twisted or crazy; you’re just hindered from giving and receiving love, and now the hindrance is removed”—goes a long way toward explaining the jubilation so many gay and lesbian people feel in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges SCOTUS ruling. Finally, their loves may be dignified not with the anemic moniker friend or partner or the clinical epithet disordered or the disdainful slur pervert but rather with the venerable, ordinary, immediately recognizable words husband or wife.
From my perspective as a lifelong churchgoer, what stands out about Rauch’s conclusion is its familiarity. His portrayal of marriage as the main place to find dignity, belonging, and the end of loneliness sounds eerily similar to the view of marriage promoted in otherwise orthodox, traditional Christian churches. In countless sermons, songs, Bible studies, and informal pew-side conversations, I heard that message like the peal of a gong: singleness equals alienation, marriage means home. (It’s no wonder, given this theology, that whole ministries sprung up to try to rescue gay people from promiscuity and point them toward “traditional” heterosexual marriage.)
Until the church turns away from such heterodoxy and begins to embody afresh a lesson from the life of its celibate Lord—that the truest, deepest human love is available outside of marriage as well as inside it, in spiritual friendships, in intentional communities, in vowed brother- and sisterhood, in devoted service, and in a hundred other beautiful and honorable callings and vocations—the Jonathan Rauches of the world will continue to want the only end to their loneliness they’ve ever heard the church and the world agree on.
Wesley Hill is assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry.
Caitlin La Ruffa:
Well, we got the Roe v. Wade of marriage. As much as we’d been expecting it, it’s still surprisingly hard to swallow.
Nonetheless, even today we have reason to be hopeful. I need only turn to my Facebook feed to see how far we’ve come. Just over two years ago, on the day of the oral arguments for Windsor, my newsfeed was a sea of red equal signs. No countering voice could be found. This time, however, the conversation shifted in dramatic fashion. To be sure, I came across a suffocating array of rainbow flags, but this time there were myriad voices balancing the debate. I was struck by the tenacity shown by dozens of college students and recent alumni who courageously shared quotes from the dissenting opinions, posted their own wedding photos, shared articles by my fellow authors in this symposium, posted memes about marriage and religious liberty, and respectfully engaged their peers in civil debates about the nature of marriage, religious liberty, and the democratic process—letting their social networks know in no uncertain (or uncharitable) terms where they stand on marriage.
For several years now I’ve had the privilege of working with college students like these who have been standing up for marriage and sexual integrity on their own campuses. These young men and women understand that this decision is not based on the “arc of history” bending toward some nebulous concept of “progress” but is based rather on the same ideology that brought us no-fault divorce, the hook-up culture, and growing rates of out-of-wedlock birth. This is the same me-centered ideology that prioritizes adults’ happiness over children’s welfare—and the breakdown of love, family, and community that has come along with them. These young leaders have witnessed those harms first hand and want no part in their perpetuation, and they are doing something about it by exposing their fellow students to arguments and research their peers on campus might otherwise never hear.
We’ve been lied to. We know we’ve been lied to about the motivation behind the same-sex marriage agenda and the supposed limitations of its scope, the immutability of sexual orientation, and even the percentage of the population that identifies as gay or lesbian. In the mother of assumptive closes, we’ve been deceived about the extent of support in this country for same-sex marriage, especially among the young. According to recent research by UT Austin sociologist Mark Regnerus less than half of millennials actually support the redefinition of marriage. Most polls done to produce the outcomes we’ve come to believe force a yes or no answer—meaning that respondents don’t have the option of admitting they might be undecided, when in fact a significant number remain so. We often forget about the substantial undecided middle because they are silent, but they are there, listening and watching. They remain open-minded for now and we have the task of convincing them. Nothing in today’s decision changes that.
It’s easy to feel like the victims right now, especially as the ACLU and other groups start turning their guns on laws that protect religious freedom. But in many ways we are the fortunate ones. We’re the ones able to prepare ourselves for lifelong, faithful love because we understand what marriage is and what marriage is about. It’s a remarkable thing to witness the beautifully strong marriages of those young people who have rejected our contemporary soulmate mentality in favor of a self-sacrificing love that ties the knot as a foundation for adult life and welcomes children in a radically selfless way. I see more joy, more personality, and more life in those marriages than I do amongst those who view marriage as a capstone achievement with little difference from a cohabiting relationship and with children as an optional accessory. That’s how I know we’re the lucky ones. We understand what marriage vows mean when the truth has been obfuscated from the wider culture. However, we owe it to our friends, family, and our culture at large, to preserve that knowledge and carry that truth back, bit by bit, day by day, one person at a time with compassion and love.
I write these words as I await the birth of my first child, any day now. What I’ve seen from the courageous witness of this generation of young leaders who understand that the nature of marriage cannot change just because a few elites in a marble palace say it has—following in the footsteps of the young activists who on January 22, 1973 refused to accept that the Supreme Court could take away the humanity of an unborn child—gives me hope for my own child’s future and for the culture he will grow up in.
Caitlin La Ruffa is the director of the Love and Fidelity Network.
Peter J. Leithart:
Orthodox Christianity has lost all cultural potency in the United States.
No one defending traditional marriage before the court dared raise the fundamental question: Who creates marriage, God or the state? Theology has no public standing, no persuasive force in the culture at large.
Obergefell is another nail in the coffin of the Protestant establishment. It’s not the first nail, or the last. It may be the one that snaps the lid closed.
What to do? For starters, Don’t panic. The church began as a disestablished minority, and that’s where much of the global church is. Early Christians were accused of incest; we can endure being treated as bigots. Been there, done that.
Then: Don’t pretend. We should stop acting like an exiled Tsar, hoping for the coup to put us back in the Winter Palace.
We should instead double our efforts to form an alternative public among the churches.
That means we stop veiling our convictions behind a publicly-approved idiom antithetical to orthodoxy. We can’t defend marriage without talking about God who joins a man and woman; we shouldn’t try. And we might as well say it plainly: We oppose gay marriage because we believe homosexual acts are sinful, and we believe that for biblical and theological reasons. Unbelievers already know it. Let’s admit it.
Some Christians aren’t convinced that the Bible prohibits homosexual acts. Let the Courts and the States go where they will. It’s absurd to urge the country to affirm Christian marriage until we’re united on the question. Given today’s disarray, that’s the work of a century or more.
Churches must take responsibility for marriages and families. The argument that we need to protect marriage for children is true in principle, laughable in practice. In sections of America, marriages aren’t steady enough to protect anyone. The best argument for traditional marriage is a thriving traditional marriage.
Creating an alternative public sounds like a plan to intensify the culture war, but it’s the opposite. Culture war continues because, in response to our displacement, we’ve tried to politick our values back on top. We failed, but for the church this is a skirmish in a spiritual war crossing millennia. We have the luxury of patience.
Attending to our own house is now our best strategy for evangelization and prophetic witness. It’s also the way of peace, perhaps the only way of peace remaining.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.
The Supreme Court has determined, as many expected it to, that the United States Constitution implicitly guarantees a right to marry a same-sex partner. This ruling is unsurprising to anyone who has paid any attention to the astonishing cultural headwind and legal momentum that same-sex marriage has generated just in the last four years.
But just because we are unsurprised, that doesn’t mean that we should not both lament a loss and give a sober look at what the future now holds. The Supreme Court has decided that individual autonomy trumps millennia of commitment to public recognition of the need for children to grow up with both a mother and a father. In every aspect of the Sexual Revolution, from the divorce culture to cohabitation to casual sex to the abortion revolution, children have borne the burden
So what can we expect from now on? Well, we cannot ignore the teaching function of the law. The Supreme Court’s error will certainly create a generation’s worth of confusion about the nature and purpose of marriage.
Secondly, as we have seen already, the Sexual Revolution has no interest in stopping at legal triumph. It desires total conformity and the elimination of dissent. Legal and social troubles have already befallen many who have stood firm with the unanimous teaching of Christianity on this issue, and we should expect more of the same now.
However, there is one thing that, tempted as we may be to expect it, will not happen, either in our lifetime or beyond: Marriage will not go away. The Gospel-imaging union between a man and a woman as a sacred testimony to Christ’s pursuit of His church will never be scrubbed from our culture, as if it were a coat of paint on our social consciousness. No, marriage is not merely a cultural accessory, it is a cosmic, spiritual, and deeply human reality is embedded into the creation itself. No amount of same-sex marriage in the twenty-first century will change this, just as no amount of blue-collar, Bible-belt divorce culture in the late twentieth century changed it then.
Marriage is resilient. It can be screamed at, wished away, and even legally disfigured, but it cannot be destroyed.
The Sexual Revolution always promises fulfillment but betrays its followers bitterly in the end. Even as we brace for a generation’s worth of confusion and enforced conformity, we must also stand fast in holding out hope to the refugees from the Sexual Revolution who will come to us, being wrecked by the fantasy of autonomy and self-creation. We must keep the light lit to the old paths. We must point out why marriage is rooted not just in nature and tradition but in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:32).
Marriage is resilient because it is God-created, not another government program. That’s why hand wringing and siege mentality has no place among those who want to champion traditional marriage. Marriage does not exist thanks to humanity, and so it cannot be unmade thanks to it either. Even in the aftermath of a Supreme Court ruling, we know this to be true. Let’s be compassionate, confident, and, like the institution we care about so deeply, let’s be resilient.
Russell Moore is President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and author of the forthcoming Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel.
Well, they didn’t go small.
There is a lot to dig into in the one-hundred-odd pages of opinions in Obergefell, but, as a very quick reaction, here are two points.
First, although some commentators predicted that the Court would issue a narrow, pro-gay marriage ruling, the reasoning of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion is actually quite sweeping, returning the Court to the heady days of substantive due process and unenumerated rights. Forget about textualism and originalism. As Chief Justice Roberts points out in his dissent, even the restraints of “history and tradition,” a limit Justice Harlan once suggested, are effectively shunted aside. A five-justice majority believes that same-sex marriage is a fundamental element of personal liberty, and that makes it a constitutional right.
For constitutional conservatives, this is very disheartening—whatever one’s views on the merits of same-sex marriage as a policy matter. After thirty years and more of trying assiduously to end, or at least limit, substantive due process, the doctrine still carries the day. As Justice Alito writes in his dissent, “Today’s decision shows that decades of attempts to restrain this Court’s abuse of discretion have failed. A lesson that some”—actually, anyone paying attention—“will take from today’s decision is that preaching about the proper method of interpreting the Constitution or the virtues of judicial self-restraint and humility cannot compete with the temptation to achieve what is viewed as a noble end by any practicable means.” Incidentally, today’s ruling demonstrates again how important the 1987 defeat of Robert Bork was, and how much Senate Democrats gained in putting up such a fight against him. It was the defeat of Bork that led to the nomination of Anthony Kennedy.
Second, most of us here at First Things will be concerned about the implications for religious freedom. The Court’s attempt to reassure religious traditionalists that, after all, the First Amendment gives them “proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and central to their lives and faiths” does ring somewhat hollow. The Court chooses its words carefully, and “proper protection as they seek to teach” seems a little grudging. As Chief Justice Roberts points out, the First Amendment doesn’t only protect the right to teach; it protects the right to exercise religion. “Ominously,” he notes, “that is not a word the majority uses.” But this passage in the Court’s opinion is dicta. Maybe we shouldn’t read too much into it.
There will be many challenges to religious institutions that continue to hold to a traditional understanding of marriage—religious adoption agencies that place children only with opposite-sex couples, religious universities that decline to provide housing for same-sex married couples, and so on. The Court may well believe that freedom of religion remains protected after this decision. As Justice Alito writes, “We will soon see whether this proves to be true.”
Mark Movsesian is the Frederick A. Whitney Professor of Contract Law and the Director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University School of Law.
The decision of the U. S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges is not surprising, though still disappointing. As a Jew, I add my disappointment (though not my surprise) that the three Jewish Justices: Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan, seem to be oblivious (if not contemptuous) to what their Jewish tradition has taught the world about the male-female union being essential to the universal institution of marriage ordained by God. So, where do we religious conservatives go from here? Let me make two brief suggestions.
Firstly, as I argued in the First Things symposium on “The Church and Civil Marriage” (April 2014), clergy who in good conscience cannot officiate at “weddings” that do not comply with what their tradition considers to be marriage for any human being (and not just for their own co-religionists) should stop co-officiating (i.e., along with the marriage license clerk) at civil weddings, and thus remove their names from the civil marriage registry. Instead, they should only officiate at weddings at which their traditions authorize them to do so, leaving it to the woman and man before them to opt for a civil marriage license or not. This is especially important because of actual threats to remove the tax-exempt status of religious institutions whose officials refuse to officiate at same-sex weddings. That is why these clergy should not even call what they are solemnizing “marriage” at all, because calling what they do and what the states does are now two different things altogether. To continue to even use the same word “marriage” is to employ a homonym. Let Jewish and Christian clergy use the Hebrew term kiddushin for what they are now solemnizing, which is the virtual equivalent of the Latin term sacramentum. Traditional religious marriage is holy; this new revolutionary institution is, by contrast, profane.
Secondly, jurisdictions, where the majority of citizens uphold the traditional definition of marriage, should only issue marriage licenses as now required by law. There doesn’t seem to me to be any legal requirement that marriage ceremonies be performed by civil clerks. This would help widen the gap between traditional, religious marriage and recently invented, secular marriage.
It is naïve to assume that this decision will be overturned in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is best to join the approximately 40 percent of Americans who have also opted out of civil marriage, and for reasons far less noble than ours.
David Novak is a rabbi of the Union for Traditional Judaism.
Male-female distinctions define marriage in a particular direction: the gift of generation and of generations. With its decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has done its part to deny and destroy this reality, and further the modern process of legalizing child abandonment, while at the same time violating the Commandment for honoring mother and father. “Marriage equality” is a euphemism for abandoning children before a singular idol: individualized—and hence unformed, unaccountable and therefore irresponsible—adult desire.
One stream of modern abandonment has been fed by the legalization of abortion. The other stream, in which the SCOTUS decision appears to take a penultimate place, is the gradual dismantling of human marriage over the past one-hundred-and-twenty years through the vast expansion of legalized divorce. Human marriage is now no longer defined by the obligations it places upon its partners for procreative and educative responsibility. “Principle 3” in the SCOTUS decision speaks of same-sex couples as “biological and adoptive” parents in a grossly obscuring fashion that ignores mother-father parenting as a fundamental aspect of children’s rights. This form of legalized abandonment strips children of the presumptive right to be raised by their biological mother and father, and strips parents of the profound obligation to raise their own children.
Several major cultural and religious realities emerge from this evolution. First, the West has clearly ceded leadership in human rights to other parts of the world. Whether these other regions have the wisdom and strength to take up the mantle is perhaps to be doubted. But the knock-on effect here will be powerful: we are heading into a period where human rights of all kinds are likely to be abused, ignored, and disassembled. Children are always the first to go.
Second, the vitality and moral usefulness of the liberal state is increasingly in question: has this form of rule by procedural decision-making served its purpose and collapsed under the weight of its own outsized reach? We are perhaps about to enter times of political revolution and re-inventing government analogous to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Third, the Christian Church is now a secondary player in these cultural transformations. She is also intrinsically debased, so intertwined has she become, at least regionally, with larger cultural shifts and declensions. The imperative for renewal, both within the church and in her relationship with surrounding political cultures, is inescapable. Are we in need of new reformation, in line with the reformations of fourth century, the twelfth, the sixteenth, and the nineteenth? If so, we will need to reform in the direction of Christian unity, the lack of which helped to create the very ecclesial incapacities of today.
Finally, we are confronting the long-term of God’s providence. Ecclesial reformation or not, cultures are not changed in an instant, except perhaps through cataclysm (which no one wants, however regular and inevitable it is within the course of human history). We have entered Canaan and been swallowed up before Moloch in the same way that Israel was enveloped by a surrounding religion of idolatrous violence. So we affirm with the Psalmist: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.”
Ephraim Radner is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College.
A half-life is the time required for the amount of something to fall to half of its initial value. If I take any comfort from the legal destruction of the timeless internal structure of marriage, it’s that same-sex marriage will have a short half-life. My bet is on fifteen years. In other words, within fifteen years the rate of its uptake among self-identified gay and lesbian Americans will fall to half of what we will observe over, say, the next few years—the time during which pent-up demand for same-sex marriage will have been met. After that, my best guess is that we’ll be able to discern its “standard” rate. (I’m afraid its radioactivity will not likely subside as rapidly.)
The reason its half-life will be short is that marriage is a conservative institution and ultimately indestructible. Hence an attempted alteration of the sort we are witnessing won’t work, but neither will it fail overnight or within five or ten years, or without significant collateral damage. The law, after all, is a powerful signal to citizens of normative conceptions of the good. It will, however, be difficult to discern the direct effect of same-sex marriage, given the high level of self-destruction already at work within American families.
In light of this, I hold that the most important conflict over marriage begins now. Will faithful Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons, and other Christians, Jews, and Muslims of good will (peacefully) reclaim marriage culturally, such that twenty-five or fifty years from now cognitively—in the popular imagination—Westerners will once again equate marriage with men and women and fidelity and permanence and the welcoming of children? It’s possible, but far from certain, because the world after something has emerged in practice, classification, and law is not as malleable as it was before it. But the opportunity is there. If we don’t (peaceably) reclaim marriage culturally and cognitively, the practice of chastity will falter on a scale we have not yet seen. We have the tools to make ancient Rome blush.
On the bright side, we’ve entered an era that will make for some of the bravest Christians we’ve ever seen. Their love will be a profound witness. For now, though, some grief is warranted. But let it be brief, remembering the words of St Teresa of Ávila: “Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything.”
Mark Regnerus is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a senior fellow at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture.
R. R. Reno:
The Supreme Court decision about marriage disappoints, but it does not surprise.
The Majority Opinion states the philosophical basis for discovering a right to same-sex marriage: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.” This is an unworkable, intellectually bankrupt concept of freedom. But it’s the consensus view in America.
Bruce Jenner has become a celebrity because his decision “to define and express” his identity as a woman epitomizes our reigning view of freedom. It’s our national religion now, the religion of Me. Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said, “Every country gets the government is deserves.” We’ve gotten the Supreme Court decision we deserve.
There can be little doubt that the reasoning behind this sweeping decision will be used to imperil religious freedom. We need to defend our religious freedom. This will undoubtedly require ongoing and important legal and political efforts on our part.
But today the first words out of our mouths should not be “religious liberty.” In a society with a disordered view of freedom, we need to speak about truth first, not freedom.
In any event, appealing to religious freedom is not likely to be very effective in the long—or even medium—term. If five Justices can imagine that freedom means a person’s right to define and express his identity (an altogether silly, “fortune cookie” way of thinking, as Justice Scalia put it in his dissent) then those same Justices can certainly redefine religious freedom. Too much emphasis on religious freedom in this cultural moment puts our trust in untrustworthy prince-judges.
We’re part of the culture that now embraces the religion of Me and it’s perverse view of freedom. Our first task today is do differentiate ourselves from this false religion—and to do so with clarity. This means speaking forthrightly about matters of moral substance.
We need to speak about sexual morality. We need to demand marriage equality. Why do the rich today get married, but the poor don’t? Why is our supposedly progressive culture fixed on the luxury good of gay marriage while ignoring the collapsing family culture elsewhere in our society? We need to talk about the complementarity of men and women, something political correctness tries to prevent us from doing. We need to sin against the religion of Me by speaking of God—and God’s laws.
In traditional Islamic societies, non-Muslim’s are dhimmis. They are allowed to exist, but they live under severe restrictions. Islam alone is permitted to define the public square. Over time, dhimmis internalize their subjugated status, accepting their subordinate roles.
The greatest challenges we face will not be legal. They will be cultural. We will be tempted to submit, tempted to remain silent. We will be tempted to reorient our efforts, trying to find a way to survive in an American regime governed by the religion of Me.
We must fight against this temptation. We must resist dhimmitude and its false path of self-imposed submission. Now is the time for truth-telling. We need to find our footing in today’s cultural landscape so that we can speak boldly about the goods of marriage, the sanctity of life, and the true nature of human freedom.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.
The Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges is not so much a piece of legal reasoning as a hymn of praise. It lauds marriage as having the power to confer “nobility and dignity,” impart “a life that could not be found alone,” and allay “the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.” These statements—utterly disconnected from the realities of America today—are at once quaint and cruel.
Marriage simply cannot and will not accommodate everyone. In 1960, one in ten adults had never been married. Today it is nearly one in five—with fifty percent of that number saying that they wish they were married. Marriage has declined the most among those who are the worst off. Men with only a high school degree or less are more likely than those with a further degree never to have married (25 percent v. 14 percent). A similar disparity exists between blacks (36 percent) and whites (16 percent). Those who do marry now marry later than ever.
We are moving toward a post-marriage future. While marriage will long continue to be the reality for a majority of Americans, its centrality to the culture and importance to individuals will only continue to ebb. How can the Court’s marriage idealism accommodate this reality? Where is the “nobility and dignity” for the Appalachian man without a high-school diploma, the single woman in Spanish Harlem, the twenty-something unpaid intern? Perhaps the justices forgot that not everyone was born in the 1950s and grew up to be an elite.
Christians must counter the Court’s marriage idealism with their own marriage realism. Marriage exists only between a man and a woman, yes, but it is also not the be-all and end-all of existence. This latter belief, which has done so much to contribute to marriage’s decline, started in the churches before making its way to the courts. Let it be stopped in the churches as well. As more and more Americans live more and more of their lives outside of marriage, Christians must recover the forms of radical solidarity that gave St. Paul confidence when he said that it was good not to marry.
We must also reject the sins that we continue to cling to despite the fact that they brought us to this moment. Marriage would not now be hymned as a realm of personal discovery and individual autonomy if Christians had not denigrated celibacy, embraced divorce, and popped the Pill. Catholics have done so just as readily as Protestants (if not quite formally) and both will have to stop.
Overcoming the lie of Obergefell will require us to speak with courage in the public square—not first in the self-defeating language of liberalism but rather in Christian terms of sin and grace, right and wrong. Even more, it will require us to live daily lives of faith, hope, and charity in churches that nurture but are not defined by the estate to which the Supreme Court has offered such an outdated ode.
Matthew Schmitz is deputy editor of First Things.
Until quite recently, the purpose of marriage was to try to ensure that couples were adequately supported socially, culturally, and materially, so that they would be able to give birth to children and then care for those children in the family that they were born into. It provided the incentive and the means for the survival of a particular family’s genetic inheritance into the next generation. It functioned as a forward-looking institution in much the same way as the practice of putting up grain for long-storage functioned as a means of ensuring the community’s survival during periods of drought.
There was another kind of relationship that also existed, and which was publicly recognized, where two people came together to enjoy one another for sex. That was concubinage. Particularly in cultures where men and women were expected to marry for reasons of political expedience, concubinage provided a means by which people could maintain sexual relationships which were based on mutual attraction, compatibility of personality, and sexual desire. Children might be born into these relationships (and they often had legal protections if they were) but procreation was not generally the point.
The difficulty that presents traditional marriage in the modern world is that over several centuries we’ve undergone a major social shift. The keeping of mistresses or concubines stopped being socially acceptable at about the same time that the idea of “marrying for love” first started to gain traction in the public imagination. The institution of marriage began to change: the focus slowly shifted from the creation of family alliances and provision for the continuation of the line, to the happiness of the couple and the love that they have for one another. In the process, a lot of other concepts (consent, for example) also shifted. The relationship in which people joined their lives on a permanent basis in order to have children became, at the same time, the relationship in which people enjoyed intense erotic attraction and emotionally satisfying interactions.
Now, in a lot of ways this was a good development. It really is true that the ideal of human sexual love involves a permanent union that combines both the erotic and the procreative dimension. The problem is that this sets the bar very high. Highly motivated individuals can make it work, but on a cultural level you end up placing a series of stresses and expectations on the institution of marriage that make it ultimately unstable.
Simply put, mutual responsibility towards offspring naturally demands a long-term commitment (at least eighteen years) while mutual attraction and erotic desire does not. What we see in the modern world is the fracturing of a very lofty ideal of marriage back into two different kinds of relationships: those which are primarily focused on children, and those which are primarily focused on erotic love. The battle over the institution of marriage is basically a battle over which of these two purposes of marriage ought to have primacy.
The answer that the Supreme Court has given by ruling in favor of same-sex marriage is basically a ruling in favor of erotic love. This should surprise no one. It’s the more culturally popular option, and it’s the view of marriage that the vast majority of heterosexuals already subscribe to. It’s also, in practice, the definition that we’ve been using for a long time. The truth is that most of the material and social supports that exist to help parents with the task of raising children are no longer associated with the institution of marriage in any way—and unfortunately, the pro-family groups that could be providing financial, emotional and practical support to people who are choosing traditional marriage tend to waste their resources fighting fruitless political battles instead.
The challenge, then, is for advocates of the traditional family to stop wringing their hands over the SCOTUS decision and blaming the gays for the demise of the family, and to focus instead on renewing the practice of sacramental marriage by building up communities of support so that the traditional understanding of marriage will become practicable and attractive again.
Melinda Selmys is the author of Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism.
Like United States v. Windsor before it, the Obergefell decision is a cultural mile-marker, not the product of constitutional doctrine (and doesn’t try very hard to appear to be). After Windsor, Harvard Professor Michael Klarman had mused that however much the rest of us might care about legal doctrine, it’s not something that the Justices appear to be much influenced by, at least in landmark cases like that one. Obergefell illustrates that point in spades, as the four dissenting justices elaborated.
The insulting rhetoric that carried Windsor along unfortunately reappeared in Obergefell. Windsor’s tantrum over DOMA (Professor McConnell in these pages described it as “adjudication by name-calling”) was surely an authorization of, if not invitation to, the recent paroxysm by the Fancy Class over the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana. Indeed, when our most exalted judicial tribunal describes historic marriage law as demeaning, disparaging, stigmatizing, and injuring vulnerable citizens (as Obergefell repeats), the pursuit of religious exercise exemptions based on that traditional position is that much less likely to receive a favorable hearing.
Obergefell also repeats Windsor’s contentious stipulation that legal recognition of marriage as a husband-wife relation harms, humiliates, and stigmatizes children in same-sex households. But by constitutionalizing the idea that every state must treat as equal the circumstance of children raised by their mom and dad, and that of children estranged from mom and/or dad in order to be raised by unrelated person(s) in a relationship that does not even implicate procreation, carries an enormous significance and potential damaging consequence to children not even alluded to by the majority, which makes its assertion all the more irresponsible.
A wistful note. One could have hoped the dissenters had given some attention to the virtues of the marriage relation that the majority had disparaged in the course of abolishing it from our shores. Supreme Court majorities throughout history have put forth eloquently as to marriage’s merits, and some gestures in this direction would have been fitting in today’s dissents, if only in editorial response to the calumnies directed against it. After reading the majority’s passionate prose, I confess to having been startled by Justice Scalia’s announcement that the law’s treatment of marriage is a matter of no special importance to him. In this sense, all adhered to the rules of liberal discourse, wherein our side is allowed to oppose judicial marriage redefinition only for procedural reasons.
Jeff Shafer serves as senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.
The other shoe has dropped.
Two years to the day after ruling against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (while waxing eloquent about the right of individual states to define marriage for themselves) the Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that the 14th Amendment requires all fifty states to sanction marriages between two individuals of the same sex. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion brings an abrupt end to the legitimate democratic process through which proponents of same-sex marriage were swiftly gaining ground. June 26 will be celebrated by many as the date of the penultimate and final victories in the stunningly swift advance of the LGBT agenda in America, but for faithful Christians it is a day for sadness, reflection, and recommitment.
Christians must not delude themselves into thinking there is some silver lining in this decision. In Obergefell, the highest court in the land has done more than merely allow for citizens to do wrong; it has bestowed its imprimatur to homosexuality as both an identity and a way of life. A significant cultural impediment has been removed, and so sin will spread. This is regrettable because sin, of course, leads to suffering. As our LGBT neighbors continue to experience the ravages of their sin, will anyone be there to explain to them its cause?
This is the job of a Christian. Like Christ, we are to meet others in the midst of their pain in order to point them toward the better way on the narrow road. For a generation or more, the Church has largely failed to be salt and light on the issue of homosexuality. We have taken for granted the meaning and social significance of marriage and family. When we have discussed homosexuality, too often it has been with an acerbic tongue.
Let today be the day the Church recommits itself to the task of sharing the Gospel, in particular its implications for human sexuality, with steadfast conviction and welcoming arms. Recovering an understanding of marriage and family and rebuilding this most basic institution of society will take a generation or more. That’s okay. Christianity has persisted through centuries of kings and courts, confident that we know how this story ends: with a glorious wedding in a city of gold between Christ and his beloved.
Eric Teetsel is Executive Director of the Manhattan Declaration, and the author of Marriage Is: How Marriage Transforms Society and Cultivates Human Flourishing.
The SCOTUS ruling is disappointing but hardly surprising. While we like to believe legal judgments are based upon application of law, we know that the context for interpretation and application is set to large extent by the larger social and political context. It has been some time since the organs of popular culture have done anything other than press for the normalization of same-sex marriage. When one adds the growing implausibility of religion as a basis for making arguments in the public square, the verdict was never really in doubt.
To see what happens next will be interesting. The establishment of the constitutional right to abortion did not stop the debate nor did it encroach significantly upon the lives of those who wish to avoid the subject. It is possible that might be the case here, that the noise will die down and life will continue as normal for most of us.
I find that possibility unlikely. Identity politicians are pursuing a highly organized and aggressive approach to the issue, using everything from social media to law courts. The cultural struggle is already acute, regardless of SCOTUS’s ruling, and freedom of religion has been under pressure for some time. To maintain traditional norms of marriage and sexuality is now established as being akin to racism and opposition to Civil Rights. The reference to the Bob Jones University case in oral arguments before SCOTUS was ominous.
Therefore, the immediate big questions concern institutions of higher education and not-for-profits. Will schools and colleges who refuse to accept gay marriage be allowed to maintain their accreditation, their federal funding, and their tax exemptions? And in the medium to long term will churches, synagogues etc. be allowed to keep their tax-exempt status?
The cost of this decision to society has yet to be determined. The cost to the church could be most significant in terms of religious freedom. If religious freedom is to have any future, we will need to be as organized and determined in its defense as those who have successfully consigned traditional marriage to the garbage bin of history. If our leaders waver, accommodate, or remain silent at this point, the task will be incalculably harder. As always, we who have been speaking out stand to be undone not so much by the noise of our enemies as by the silence of our friends.
Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.