The church should care about marriage because the church is uniquely empowered to go beyond secular society’s declarations that demeaning someone’s love is irrational to naming such unfair degradation for what it is: Evil.
The church did not lead the charge against injustice based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Having not lived through the movements for women’s liberation, civil rights, or abolition, I cannot speak to whether the collective caution and reluctance to enter the fray on this issue of justice stands out. Nonetheless, when my atheist friend staked out the position, “Jim, when the church eventually comes around to accepting gay people in the five to ten years after the rest of the county has, I’m not going to let you count that as a reason to be Christian,” I could not argue with him. We may have missed our chance to be prophetic.
Secular society seems poised to tip toward equality. Only a few years ago, anti-marriage equality ballot measures helped drive conservative voters to the polls, but in 2012, Washington, Maryland and Maine voters affirmed by initiative the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Fourteen other states have codified marriage equality by the action of their courts or their legislatures. To understand the momentum, states took eight of these fourteen actions within the last twelve months.
Did these judges, legislators and voters grant members of the LGBTQ community equality because they recognized the legitimacy of their brother’s and sister’s love for one another, or because they could not explain continued discrimination? Anecdotally, I can report frequently hearing something along the lines of “who cares what people do in their private lives,” as the basis for supporting equality. Who cares, indeed?
While the opinion of the electorate, or even a legislature, evades easy characterization, judges write down their decisions. Consider this from the landmark case Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), wherein the United States Supreme Court struck down discriminatory restrictions against gay couples. “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. . . . The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.” Similarly, in United States v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), the Court struck down the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” because “[t]he federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”
Discriminating against someone because of his or her gender identity or sexual orientation cannot pass even the lowest level of scrutiny. Using sexual orientation or gender identity to discriminate is “illegitimate.” The law can say nothing more, but more needs to be said. To repeat the question from above: Who cares?
Jesus said to the disciples, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:21-24. To Peter, Jesus said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19. While others use these passages to establish a church polity not palatable for Disciples, the passages nonetheless point to the church’s need to be God’s presence on Earth. As we know, when two people have been married, “they are no longer two, but one flesh [and] what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:8-9. Indeed, many of us have personally witnessed God’s work joining same-sex marriages and blessing families headed by same-sex couples. The church cannot shirk its responsibility to denounce those who would separate what God has joined, to announce, “We care!”
I am pleased that the courts find no rational basis for demeaning the love of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer members. Happily, the United States Constitution forbids enforcing laws based on such an illegitimate interest. Notwithstanding such good news from the civil authorities, the church should care about marriage equality because this is not enough. Demeaning the marriage of any of our members demeans God’s authority to join two in marriage. The church, and only the church, can say we care about your marriage. Laws degrading your marriage are not only irrational, they are evil.
Why do YOU think the church should care about marriage?