The landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) was to come down Wednesday, June 26. Only the path the highest court in the land took fell short of that designation.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was gutted. Key elements of the law that deny over 1000 federal benefits to same-sex couples were ruled unconstitutional. President Barack Obama praised the end of “discrimination enshrined in law” that marginalized “gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class” by denying them rights that are afforded to straight couples.
However, the court failed to rule on the constitutionality of gay marriage itself. The states rights that are heralded by Republicans in other cases were upheld in DOMA, allowing each to govern and recognize unions as they see fit. Yet House Speaker John Boehner followed most of his party in expressing disappointment in the 5-4 decision: Anthony Kennedy was the conservative that joined liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonya Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
The SCOTUS ruling on California Proposition 8 (Prop 8) has far more complicated implications. It was thrown out of court for lack of standing, saying that no ordinary citizen has a right to challenge the lower court’s ruling that the measure defining marriage as between one man and one woman was unconstitutional since their own unions are unaffected.
This 5-4 vote was not at all along party lines. Sotomayor joined moderate conservative Kennedy and the right-wing Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas in dissent, feeling the court should decide the case definitively. That leaves three liberals and two conservatives choosing to avoid being part of history one way or another on this case.
The door remains open for a state official to challenge that ruling in defense of Prop 8 on behalf of voters. But allies to the measure have disappeared as a majority of the nation now supports marriage equality, and it is unlikely an elected official will take what will be an unpopular action in the very near future.
Part of the reason for the change is that money funding messages that cast the battle as an attack on Christianity rather than a fight for equal rights have disappeared. In the 2012 election, several states brought gay marriage ballot measures to the voters so that out-of-state funding could not be focused on one location. Thus the decision makes supposedly gay-friendly California just the 12th state (plus the District of Columbia) to recognize gay marriage.
Christians concerned about the United States being out-of-step with God’s law need to remember this is a secular democracy, not a theocracy. We cannot govern by religion and still be for religious freedom, one of the most basic rights of the U.S. constitution that is often sadly missing in other nations that are thus able to discriminate against Christianity.
Those speaking as Libertarians cannot justify their other views if they feel the government has the right to dictate which relationships are acceptable and which are not. Those with more legitimate concerns over the potential that churches could be forced to perform marriages they disapprove of should consider the motives of those behind Prop 8.
If it was not a law designed to make second-class citizens of those engaged in relationships that disgust them, they would have sought equal rights through some other designation such as civil unions or expanded rights for domestic partnerships. If the goal was really to follow God’s law, they would not have picked just one issue from Leviticus to legislate: Where is their push to get rid of boysenberries (hybrid plants), cotton-blend shirts (mixed fabric) and pagan marriages?
Even choosing to define marriage as between one man and one woman oversteps the Bible that did allow for polygamy. This is an ideal that Christianity can represent better by example—making marriages work and not being as likely as the world to divorce—than through legislation. God does not want his law selectively applied based on a discriminatory agenda. He abhors hypocrisy and hate more than most sins, and judgment starts in the House of the Lord.