Judges Are Striking Down Voter-Approved Gay Marriage Bans – How Can Christians Turn the Tide?

The Story:

Gay rights advocates have experienced quite a winning streak in the courts lately. Last June, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that the federal government ought to extend benefits to same-sex couples in states where they are lawfully married. Since then, federal judges in conservative states (Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Virginia) have struck down voter-approved gay marriage bans.

Although those decisions have been stayed until they are appealed (meaning that, for the time being, no same-sex unions will be performed or recognized in these states), the complete dismissal of the will of the people by judicial fiat is a troubling trend for defenders of traditional marriage.

By declaring the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, the Supreme Court, as expressed in the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, basically claimed that any attempt to differentiate between traditional marriage and same-sex marriage is a result of bigotry. The U.S. Constitution, in Kennedy’s words, protects the moral and sexual choices of U.S. citizens. Refusal to recognize same-sex unions, then, demeans the couple, humiliates their children, and runs afoul of human decency.

If you have ever authored a Facebook post that defends the conception of marriage as a permanent and exclusive union between a man and a woman, you have probably been derided as a hate-monger, a bully, and a bigot. That’s to be expected since support for gay marriage — and activity on Facebook — is highest among 18- to 29-year-olds, 70 percent of whom find the redefinition of marriage permissible.

Recent efforts by federal judges in conservative states to legalize same-sex unions is a result of recent Supreme Court decisions and cultural shifts driven especially by those between the ages of 18-49. The pressures felt by governors, legislators, and judges to submit to the efforts of the gay rights movements — and thus institutionalize the sexual revolution — is summed up rather frankly by Andrew M. Koppelman, a law professor at Northwestern, who said, “It is becoming increasingly clear to judges that if they rule against same-sex marriage, their grandchildren will regard them as bigots.”

Encouraged by the wording of Justice Kennedy in the Windsor case, federal judges are viewing their decisions as groundbreaking advancements in what they believe to be the civil rights issue of this era. By knocking down obstacles to same-sex unions, federal judges are taking up the righteous cause themselves in an attempt to ratify the social progress already made in 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, that recognize gay marriage.

And federal judges are not the only government officials willing to overturn the will of the people and radically change the historical meaning of marriage, thereby altering the composition of the family. In Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon stated that his administration will accept joint tax returns from same-sex couples legally married in other states, despite his own state’s voter-approved gay marriage ban.

Legislative efforts are underway in many states to both protect existing bans on same-sex unions and to ensure that religious believers who object to such unions do not have their rights of conscience infringed.

The latter bills are being proposed in order to shield individuals, business owners, and faith-based organizations from being prosecuted for discrimination based on sexual orientation. Already, several cases have been recorded in which bakers, photographers, and florists, who object to gay marriage because it is at odds with their faith, are facing legal trouble because of their refusal to serve at gay marriage ceremonies. Some Christian adoption and foster-care agencies are also facing tremendous opposition because they will not place children in same-sex households.

Although defenders of gay rights sanctimoniously boast that they are in favor of increasing people’s freedoms, the same public policies they promote threaten to limit the freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion for those who cannot in good conscience support gay marriage. As Ryan T. Anderson and Leslie Ford write in National Review, “All Americans should remain free in the public square to act in accordance with their beliefs about marriage without fear of government penalty.”

Our culture is changing radically and rapidly, and our laws are reflecting these seismic shifts in public opinion. As Jim Campbell from Alliance Defending Freedom says, “We as a people, state by state, need to decide what the future of marriage is going to be.”

One of the best ways to promote marriage is to use the pulpit to express its importance and encourage its protection.

Teaching Insights:

Traditional marriage is the ideal way to raise godly children and invest in the next generation (Genesis 18:19)

“I have singled [Abraham] out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19).

The family is the primary institution by which we train children to love God and to act justly and righteously. By failing to prop up the necessary supports for this vital, foundational social institution, we are going to see the continuation of negative social trends that are especially harmful to those in low-income neighborhoods.

Four ways to rebuild the marriage culture:

1) Prove to your congregation that traditional marriage is vital to the welfare of children, families, and society.

Even President Obama recognizes the positive effects strong families have on our communities. In 2008, he said, “We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.”

We know the statistics so well because we have seen the way in which the rise of no-fault divorce has led to broken families, increased stress, and increased poverty. According to a recent study, 55 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds in America do not live in intact families. Furthermore, 40 percent of all children are born out of wedlock, while one in three children live in single-parent homes. All of these children, in other words, are at a drastically increased risk of facing emotional stress, dropping out of school, experiencing low self-esteem, and living in poverty. In low-income neighborhoods, the number one cause contributing to the vicious cycle of high crime and low achievement is family breakdown.

Children have been proven to have the best chance to succeed when raised by their biological mother and father. Such a situation is fostered by legal devices designed to strengthen and promote healthy, lasting marriages.

2) Help reverse prevailing public opinion through loving, well-reasoned discourse.

Gallup reports indicate that the rise in people who think gay marriage should be legalized is matched by a decline in those who think marriage is important. Support of same-sex unions has been well-documented. Seventy percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 believe same-sex marriage should be legal. Fifty-three percent of 30- to 49-year-olds feel the same way.

Interestingly, in 2013, when Gallup asked how important it is for two people who plan to spend the rest of their lives together to get married, only 43 percent said it is very important, while 19 percent said it is not important at all. When Gallup asked how important it is for a man and a woman who have a child to get married, only 38 percent said it is very important, while 20 percent said it is not important at all.

This decline in the esteem of marriage — this disenchantment with the entire institution — which has arisen, perhaps, because of high rates of divorce, is undergirding this generation’s acceptance of its radical redefinition.

By stating and restating the importance, the sacredness, and the goodness of marriage, pastors can help rehabilitate its image among the young adults who dismiss its relevance.

3) Educate your congregation about marriage.

First Things First is a nonprofit organization in Richmond, Va., that encourages strong marriages and effective parenting in low-income communities. They advise three simple steps that, if followed, can help transform neighborhoods stuck in perpetual poverty: 1) graduate high school, 2) get married, and 3) have kids. If everyone in your congregation followed these three steps, poverty would decline considerably, and levels of happiness would rise, as well. When marriage is weakened, communities founder. When marriage is strengthened, communities thrive.

4) Encourage your congregation to contact their representatives.

By calling or emailing your state and federal representatives and asking them to introduce bills (like the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act in the U.S. Congress) and ballot-initiatives designed to support traditional marriage and strengthen religious liberty, Christians can make their voices heard and take a stand for biblical principles that are essential for the well-being of our children.