Reflections on Independence Day, Obergefell v. Hodges, and the State of Our Union
To say it's been an historic couple of weeks is an understatement. One week and one day ago, our Supreme Court decided, unequivocally, our Constitution grants same-sex couples seeking to marry that right. I use the term "our" deliberately because, whether you agree with the decision of our Court or not, it is nonetheless our Court rendering our collective decision. This is not to say that we, individually, should agree with our Court's decision. I assume from the nature and title of this blog it is obvious that, if I were a Justice on our Court, I would have been in the minority. The arguments on all sides are apparent and readily available to anyone interested, so I won't rehash any of those here. Nor will I let this become a lament on the state of our Union on this celebration of our independence.
Instead, I appeal to everyone to reflect on what has transpired and what it means for our country.
After President Obama's inauguration, I wrote:
Whether you are black, white; Republican, Democrat; conservative, liberal; or whatever... today is a day we can all be proud of.
The inauguration of our first African-American President is historic. It is on par with the Civil War, the Great Depression, and landing on the moon as far as I am concerned...
I think there’s truth to the notion that “Washington changes people, people don’t change Washington.” But, the inauguration of Barack Obama as President certainly changes America...
This sentiment is equally appropriate after the Obergefell decision. From one day to the next, our country was transformed. Not through war, nor violence, nor coup, nor other illegitimate means, but through the channels of our government.
To my fellow Christians who disagree with our Court's decision, I simply say first, this happened on our watch. If our Court's decision offends your religious sensibilities, why did you let it happen? And by "you," I mean "we." The decision was our Court's, made up of appointees, not politicians, but, make no mistake, the decision was a political decision. And it should hardly come as a surprise. It's been visible on the horizon for years. Our system is political after all, and a united voice and voting block could have easily prevented it. So, collectively, we must stand up and accept our share of the responsibility.
I'm afraid we, my Christian brethren, exist in a perpetual state of religious naivete. There is a tidal wave of un-Biblical thought and ideology flooding our nation, and we continue to simply exist in our own homes, churches, and communities insulated from the big, scary world, and we do little more than complain about what happens around us.
Jesus said, "upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." That does not suggest a passive church being overrun by the enemy. To the contrary, he is describing a vibrant, active church for whom victory is guaranteed. In order to obtain victory, however, we do need to first get in the game.
Second, we are woefully unequipped for the battleground on which we have chosen to fight. Our weapons are spiritual, not legal nor political. I say this, of course, as a lawyer. Our first mission should be changing hearts, not laws. If we can succeed on this front, the legal and political battles become irrelevant. We are like a military stretched thin, battling on many fronts. On this point, scripture is abundantly clear, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."
Our enemy is not any community of people, not gay, not Muslim, not black or white, not atheist, not anyone. Our enemy is spiritual. Fortunately, for this battle our singular weapon is more than sufficient. Our training in spiritual warfare may be lacking, but our weapon is not. The spiritual war, not the political one, is the one where victory is imperative.
Third, despite what I have just written, our Court's decision doesn't have to be final. Our Court decided our Constitution, as currently constructed, affords same-sex couples the right to marry. However, this can be changed by simple Constitutional amendment. It is easier said than done, but, if we collectively have the intestinal fortitude to amend our Constitution, it can be accomplished. If not, we should stop complaining and move on.
To everyone who agrees with our Court's decision, I do not expect nor intend to change minds. I am not nearly so presumptuous. I would offer, first, disagreement with our Court's decision does not necessarily equal bigotry, hatred, closed-mindedness, or any other such descriptor. It could, but it doesn't have to. There are countless issues whereupon reasonable people can disagree. This is one. To suggest otherwise hints of all the adjectives above.
For millennia, the definition of "marriage" was a union between man and woman. Even now, the Black's Law Dictionary definition of "marriage" is:
Marriage, as distinguished from the agreement to marry and from the act of becoming married, Is the civil status of one man and one woman united in law for life, for the discharge to each other and the community of the duties legally incumbent on those whose association is founded on the distinction of sex.
Most dictionaries define "marriage" likewise. Admittedly, Webster's has amended the definition to include same-sex marriage, but that definition is presently in the minority. So let's at least be honest about what we, as a nation, are doing: we are redefining "marriage." It's not the discovery of some heretofore existent right that has been suppressed. It is the absolute creation of something altogether new.
To be sure, this is not without precedent in our legal system, but let's not pretend this is the righting of some long-standing wrong. By definition, marriage has always been exclusively the union of men and women. By law, going forward, this is no longer the case.
Second, and I don't mean to point out the obvious, but no one is, or, prior to eight days ago, was prohibited from marrying. There were prohibitions against marriage to certain persons, numbers of persons, etc., but that type of regulation is nothing new. Therefore, the notion that anyone was denied the right to marry is simply not true. The ability to marry whomever one chose was not guaranteed, but no one was deprived of the right to marry. The "right" to marry someone of the same sex did not exist a week and a day ago. Now, by judicial fiat, it does.
Third, though the issue was decided in favor of same-sex marriage, there are legitimate legal arguments to the contrary; and, but for the judgment of any one of five Justices, the decision would have turned...and still been correct. It is a quirk of our legal system where the majority of nine is right, until it isn't the majority. Fundamental, Constitutional "rights" are given, taken, and/or whittled away with surprising regularity. In addition to the Fourteenth Amendment right newly minted, those guaranteed by the Second and Fourth Amendments come immediately to mind, but there are numerous others. Therefore, the issue is far from settled. Now, our nation's legal system will learn to operate with this change in the law and sort out the many questions that remain.
Finally, to anyone on the fence (and judging by my Facebook feed, there may not be any), I would say there is no Biblical ambiguity on the issue, and no amount of mental gymnastics can yield a different result. In Romans 1, Paul writes:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
I intentionally chose this New Testament passage lest the applicability of the Old Testament scriptures which agree are called into question. It's quite clear. It's also clear from reading the entirety of the chapter that what we are experiencing is the result of our collective exchanging of the truth of God for lies. Too many of them to list here, but, in essence, determining that we are wise enough to decide truth for ourselves, apart from God. Unfortunately, it's not a decision we get to make without consequences.
On the flip side, the list of sins in this chapter doesn't end there. Paul lists envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slanderer, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, disobedience...Stop me when I get to yours. I know at one point in my life or other I have fit most of those.
The real issue is not any one sinful act, but the sin of pride-pride in deciding for ourselves what constitutes sin. It's simply not our call to make, or remake. Our Court can determine what is and isn't lawful-most of those things listed above are, in fact, legal. They are all still sin. That cannot be changed.
Fortunately, Paul also provides the remedy, and it isn't conversion therapy, counseling, or any other such nonsense. It is repentance. And it's not argument, legal challenges, social media, political rallies, or any other such nonsense that will lead to repentance. It is God's kindness. His grace. His love. Romans 2:4.
On this we can all agree: #lovewins. But love didn't win a week and a day ago in Washington D.C. because of five Supreme Court Justices, love won some 2000 years ago on a cross because of one man, Jesus Christ, son of the one and only Supreme God of the universe, who died for our sin because he loves us all.