While those in support of gay marriage are celebrating with rainbows that resemble a dumped Skittles package, the same-sex marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is causing church leaders to react quickly. Many pastors say they fear the court’s 5-4 decision to legalize homosexual marriage across the country is a vote for doom of religious freedom, as religious Americans have always known it. Considering the lawsuits homosexuals have launched against religious businesses over a refusal of service, churches have a reason to fear change.
Major denominations were quick to issue their official statements on the matter, within hours of the public announcement of the decision. Most of the prominent churches have been making their position clear during the ongoing marriage debate in recent years.
The reaction of churches to the decision is important because 40 percent of American citizens claim to have gone to church the previous Sunday, with 145 million citizens claiming to be Christian. Additionally, only three states (Maine, Maryland, and Washington) approved gay marriage by vote. The rest of the states legalized homosexual unions, by either legislative action or court decisions. The latest court decision, by all accounts, goes against the will of the majority of the people when it comes to voting on the subject.
The Catholic Church has been in a tug-of-war over the issue, welcoming gay activists to the Vatican and then backing Slovakia’s referendum banning same-sex unions. The church has not made a statement regarding the latest U.S. court ruling. The marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is causing a dramatic reaction among church leaders in other faiths.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant group in the U.S., issued its statement before the court decision was announced. In its national convention in Ohio earlier in June, the group approved a resolution in support of traditional marriage. SBC President Ronnie Floyd said the denomination will not obey, should the state require the church to accept homosexual unions as true marriage. “The Supreme Court of the United States is not the final authority nor is the culture itself. The Bible is God’s final authority about marriage and on this book we stand,” Floyd said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as Mormons, also issued a statement that their stance is clear. They believe marriage is one man, one woman, one lifetime. That stance was officially adopted in 1995, when the church adopted a statement called a Proclamation on the Family. The church was guiding people to a topic page on its website, addressing gay marriage on Friday, June 26. Additionally, the church held a press conference in January calling for civility and clear legal protections for religious freedom and for the gay community, regarding housing and employment discrimination. The church backed a state legislative bill in March to that effect, with the bill passing and going into law with the governor’s signature.
Other churches, including Presbyterians, Methodists and Pentecostal denominations, are posting responses and church teachings on their websites. Many pastors included the subject in their sermons over the weekend.
Churches that believe in traditional marriage as a tenant of faith have been changing their bylaws to reflect that belief over the past two years. The changes are largely because churches fear they will be sued if they refuse to perform a homosexual wedding ceremony. Florida pastor Dean Inserra said there are homosexuals attending his church and he could not legitimately perform a wedding for them, but he wanted something official to refer to for legal authority. Several California pastors said in interviews that their churches were threatened with litigation after they refused to perform gay wedding ceremonies, in the light of a court decision legalizing homosexual marriage in that state. So far, no church has been sued over the issue. Attorneys for such groups said these moves were necessary to protect churches from potential legal action, in the wake of changes over the definition of marriage.
The issue of maintaining religious freedom is not a red herring, if one listened to the arguments issued before the Supreme Court in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which led to the court’s ruling. An exchange between Justice Samuel Alito and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli questioned whether religious institutions could lose their tax-exempt status if they refused to recognize homosexual unions. Verrilli said it could be an issue, and later stated in an interview with Baptist Press that the decision “opened the door to a number of other possible concerns. One can only imagine how legalizing same-sex marriage might also affect religious freedoms relating to admissions or hiring and firing.”
The question comes up from a 1983 court decision involving fundamentalist Christian college Bob Jones University, in South Carolina. The university, under its beliefs, did not allow interracial dating or marriage. The high court ruled against it, stating that it would lose its tax-exempt status for refusing to allow interracial intimate relations. That could set a precedent for churches and religious schools alike in the light of gay marriage, according to the courtroom exchange.
The Southern Baptists worry about their seminaries falling into the middle of litigation over admission, hiring and housing issues. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said religious beliefs over all three issues are threatened.
Ultimately, the religious community sees this decision as a potential loss of religious freedom. Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said the decision to elevate sexual orientation to a protected class could have a “detrimental impact” on religious freedom for those who oppose homosexuality. That could be especially troublesome if, somewhere in the future, the court ruled that such religious belief is driven by bigotry or hatred rather than a sincere religious faith.
The freedom of religious belief and expression is a constitutional right, while marriage was merely interpreted and reinvented as a right by the justices. Religious freedom is at the core of America’s being and religious people will not go away quietly.
This is a cultural battle, one which will not dissipate with the Supreme Court ruling. The same-sex marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court will continue to cause a reaction among church leaders and their congregations. Indeed, it is a fire that was poked and stirred into a blaze that will provoke the faithful into a defiant stance that will affect this country for years to come, and possibly as soon as the 2016 presidential election.
Opinion by Melody Dareing
Edited by Chanel van der Woodsen
Christian Post: How Will the Supreme Court Decision Affect Religious Freedome
Deseret News: What the LDS Church Said About the Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage
Fox News: Churches Are Changing Bylaws After Gay Marriage Ruling
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