Proposition 8, Christian Marriage, and the Constitution

As part of the best album of all time (dc Talk's 1995 "Jesus Freak" album, of course), there is a song called "What Have We Become?" It was one of the least popular songs on the album, and people familiar with the album may not be familiar with this song. Even if we were familiar with it, we haven't heeded its timeless lesson.

A preacher shuns his brother
'Cause his bride's a different color
And this is not acceptable
His papa told him so
It was love that he'd been preaching
But this was overreaching
The boundary's stretching further
Than his heart would choose to go

The 4th line could have just as easily said, "His Bible told him so." Churches used to openly condemn interracial marriages, and did so with a clear mandate from books like Ezra and Nehemiah. Interracial marriages have beenand can becondemned with scripture. But our consciousness has been raised, and it is now much more widely accepted that if two people of a different race fall in love, they can marry.

I think it's important to remember history, look at evidence, and dig beneath the surface. However, it's clear that if you pick the wrong issue in the wrong time period, you'll get stoned to death (literally or figuratively). Before society's collective consciousness was raised about women's rights, you might have been in deep trouble if you wanted to ask some honest questions about why women were treated as inferior. Same thing with African-Americans or Native Americans or pick your minority. In the days of slavery, it was commonly defended using scripture...which can easily be done. Slavery is all over the Bible and is never explicitly condemned as wrong. On every issue throughout history, religious people have come around with some questions stemming from what they believe about the character of God and concerns with "prooftexting," and if they were too "early" in the course of history, look out. Taking all this into account, it's sometimes very hard to see how the issue of homosexuality is much different.

In some Christian circles, all you have to do is show an ounce of love and concern for homosexuals or suggest that we haven't asked all the right questions, and, as a pastor, you could lose your job. All some of us want to do is explore and discuss. "Come, let us reason together." It seems like the responsible thing to do. When it is said, "The Bible is clear!", some of us want to ask how it's more "clear" on this issue than it has been on other issues (see above). Some of us want to ask why homosexuality has become such a linchpin issue when the Bible hardly ever mentions it. When it comes to marriage, some of us look at the state of Christian heterosexual marriages and we really can't consciously conclude that the push for gay marriage is what's to blame for the decline of marriage and families in this country.

On July 8, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act's denial of federal rights and benefits to lawfully married Massachusetts couples "offends" the notion of states' rights as enshrined in the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. More significantly, a month later, U.S. District Chief Judge Walker in California ruled that Proposition 8, passed by California voters in 2008 by a 52% majority, is unconstitutional. (By the way, Walker was appointed by Reagan after opposition from democrats over his perceived insensitivity toward homosexuals).

It's very tempting to turn this into a religious controversy. Most Christians have. People like Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, are erupting over what they perceive as the continued marginalization of Christianity in America.

But this decision was not a religious one. It does not inflict a wound on religious freedom but upholds it. It will not, as some are suggesting, end in an attempt to force churches and pastors to marry homosexual couples if they don't want to. (They've never been able to force us to marry heterosexual couples; why would it be true of others?). That would be just as unconstitutional.

The judge ruled that Proposition 8 was a law based on religious belief and private moral views, and you cannot, in this country, deny a group of people something that they want purely on those grounds. You have to prove, as Prop 8's supporters tried to do, that it is harmful to individuals or society or that a legitimate state interest trumps it. The people who believe as such had their day in court, and the judge said that they did not prove their case. Judge Walker carefully explained this. "The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage," he said. "The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry."

Walker's ruling says nothing about the church or Christianity but much about America. Our country's founding document is the Constitution, and there is no Constitutional ground for denying equal rights to same sex couples. Regardless of biblical or religious discussions, the state, which taxes and serves all people, cannot deny a marriage license based on tradition or any private moral or religious view. And it doesn't matter how many people hold the view...that's why we have a Constitution. Many people are saying that a judge should not be able to overrule the majority vote of the people. But in a question of rights, the majority opinion is irrelevant. Among other things, the Constitution provides that there are certain areas of society where the majority does not get its way. For example, race. If 93% of the population wanted separate water fountains, it would still be a no-go. If 93% of Mississippi residents wanted to re-segregate the schools, they couldn't do it. In a question of rights, the majority opinion is irrelevant. And in a question of American law, religion does not get a veto.

In my short time being a pastor, I've already declined to perform a marriage ceremony for two couples. Why? Because I didn't think they should get married and I couldn't join them in marriage against my conscience. Both couples were heterosexual, and both couples, had they decided to, could have gotten a marriage license without my blessing. This is how it has always been, and this is how it always will be. It would be just as unconstitutional for the government to tell a church or a pastor who to marry. Regardless of what happens with gay marriage, churches will always have the right to deny a religious ceremony to anyone they want. Thanks to church and state separation, churches can deny anybody virtually anything, including a wedding ceremony, based on their religious beliefs and policies. The state, however, must produce entirely different reasons for denying it.

I believe there is something that should be done to "go the rest of the way" with regard to church/state separation. Currently, a pastor performing a wedding ceremony serves as an agent of the state. A couple goes to get their marriage license, and it can be signed and validated by a pastor should the couple choose to have a religious ceremony. But I believe this is an entanglement of church and state and it should be changed. Religious marriage and civil marriage should be completely separate. Marriage is historically a very religious concept, and I don't believe the state should be involved in it. The state should simply regulate contractual commitments between any legal, consenting adults that want one. Couples who desire to exchange vows within a religious context can then do so. In the current state of affairs, the state still can't force me to marry someone I wish not to, so why not solidify the separation and end the practice of ministers signing marriage licenses?

As it stands, marriage is one big mess, in more ways than one, and as someone who does relationship counseling, I can guarantee you: gay marriage is not the culprit.  The "decline of the family" started long before this controversy.


  1. Reading your blog, the most glaring question I am left with, as a fellow Christian, is: do you believe that, from a Biblical standpoint, marriage should only be between a man and a woman?

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Nick. Part of the reason the question seems glaring is because I didn't address it. I wanted to keep this blog post focused on Walker's ruling and also to call for the completion of the now partial separation between civil marriage and religious marriage.

    Here's my own struggle, Nick, and you can tell me what your response is. A couple of points.

    1) Reread the paragraph that's beside the clip art. It's just very hard for me to see how homosexuals are not simply the next group of people in line to fall victim to biblically-defended prejudice.

    2) There are a lot of things that a marriage SHOULD be but isn't. God's "Garden of Eden" ideal seems clear, but we haven't been there for some time. Every marriage has its list of things that make it fall short of God's ideal. Knowing this, it's hard for me to see that gender identity is somehow 10x more of a mortal sin. For example, I married my wife for deep and important reasons like our love for each other, our shared commitments and faith, and our attraction to each other, all the same reasons homosexuals say they want to be together. We didn't fall in love or get married simply because she had the opposite set of sexual organs.

    3) I take seriously the fact that Jesus addressed marriage as between a man and a woman and quoted Genesis 2:24. But the issue he was addressing was divorce, so if we're going to be consistent, we would have to take all the hatred and energy currently directed at homosexuals and transfer it to divorcees.

    As I wrote in the post: "When they say, 'The Bible is clear!', some of us want to ask how it's more 'clear' on this issue than it has been on other issues."