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Same-sex marriage ruling: what now?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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From left, Annie Katz of the University of Michigan, Zaria Cummings of Michigan State University, Spencer Perry of Berkeley, Calif., and Justin Maffett of Dartmouth University, celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry.  No longer may this liberty be denied to them.”  So stated Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in today’s Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.  He was joined by the court’s four liberal justices; each of the conservative members dissented and wrote their own opinion.

Here’s what we know: gay and lesbian couples are now able to marry in the four states named in the case—Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Michigan.  There may be a delay in the remaining states with bans, since lower courts will need to apply the Supreme Court’s decision to them.

Did the court do the right thing?

The Supreme Court is empowered to interpret and apply the Constitution of the United States. Nowhere does the Constitution require the redefinition of marriage.  Chief Justice Roberts stated in his dissent, “If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. . . . But do not celebrate the Constitution.  It had nothing to do with it.”

How to Defend Biblical Marriage: What You Need to Know about…omosexuality, Same-sex Marriage and the Bible by Jim DenisonThe court imposed its judgment rather than allowing the people to decide this issue.  (Note that of the 37 states that previously legalized same-sex marriage, only four did so through popular vote.)  Those of us who believe life begins at conception consider the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling to be catastrophically wrong.  Now the court has sided again with an activist agenda rather than with historic moral commitments.  This decision renders marriage genderless and makes it primarily about the desires of adults rather than the welfare of children, families, and society.  

What comes next?  

Gay rights activitists have been following a decades-long strategy: normalize, legalize, and endorse.  They began by normalizing same-sex relations through movies, television, and other media.  Then they began working to legalize such relations through the courts.  Now that they have seen their agenda ratified by the nation’s highest court, they are moving toward endorsement.

GLAAD President and CEO Kate Ellis responded to the court’s ruling: “We must not only advance policy, we must also accelerate acceptance of the LGBT community—because laws alone don’t end discrimination, people do.”  The gay rights movement is also likely to address employment issues, seeking a federal law prohibiting hiring practices based on sexual orientation.

What will this mean for religious institutions?

During oral arguments on April 28, Justice Scalia asked Mary L. Bonauto, lead counsel arguing for same-sex marriage, if clergy would be required to perform such ceremonies.  She insisted that a constitutional right to gay marriage would not force clergy to perform gay weddings.  Later, Justice Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who was arguing on behalf of gay marriage, “would the same apply to a university or college if it opposed same-sex marriage?”  “It’s going to be an issue,” Verrilli answered.

Most legal observers believe that pastors and churches will not be forced to perform same-sex marriages.  But what about a church facility rented for weddings?  What about universities that offer married heterosexual students housing but not married gay and lesbian students?  What about hiring practices and spousal benefits at faith-based hospitals and ministries?  Will statements defending biblical marriage be considered “hate speech”?  Will religious non-profits that support biblical marriage see their tax-exempt status threatened?

The ruling is fresh, the questions are many, and the answers are few.  In light of today’s ruling, the Denison Forum wants to help you sort through the issues we face.  I have written How to Defend Biblical Marriage for this purpose, and invite you to download it from our website today.  I hope it will help churches and believers understand and respond to this challenge with biblical perspective.

We do not yet know the implications of today’s ruling for religious organizations.  In coming days, we’ll hear much more about policies ensuring that the government does not penalize those who uphold biblical marriage.  Without such policies, the freedom of speech and religion are in question.

Is there good news?

Absolutely.  God is still on his throne.  Today’s ruling did not surprise him.  And Christians have been in the minority before.  Believers around the world are dying for their faith—according to John Allen, longtime Vatican journalist, 90 percent of all religious martyrs in the world are Christians.  Believers in the first century and around the world today faced challenges far greater than ours in America.

Here’s my advice: let’s wait to see how the debate regarding religious liberty evolves, then respond as needed.  Let’s not assume persecution that is not yet a reality, but let’s also resolve to stand firm for biblical truth at any cost.  If today’s ruling leads to oppression and worse, let’s join the apostles in “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).

Whatever happens, let’s continue to engage the culture with biblical truth, offering light in a dark world.  And let’s show the LGBT community God’s love in ours.  Laws are temporal—souls are eternal.