‘Just Who Do We Think We Are?’: The Supreme Court Redefines Marriage

'Just Who Do We Think We Are?': The Supreme Court Redefines Marriage

Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage and invalidating marriage amendments in the constitutions of 31 states. In the process, the court not only reshaped public policy and our nation’s official understanding of rights, but asserted a bold, new role for itself in our democratic process. For Christians, the ruling offers more than just a discouraging divorce between reality and law. It offers a chance to reassert our identity as “aliens and strangers” in this world (1 Peter 2:11), to be a witness to our neighbors even while facing social scorn and financial consequences, and to practice faithfulness to Christ and His Word when it’s most meaningful.

What happened last week at the Supreme Court changed a great deal, not just by imposing so-called “same-sex marriage” on America, but by seizing unprecedented power for the court, itself. For several of the dissenting justices, the power-grab by their colleagues came as a shock. Rather than interpreting the law as it stands, wrote Chief Justice Roberts in dissent, the justices of the majority gave their opinion of what that law should say, engaging in what he described as “an act of will, not legal judgment.” And rather than allow the heated debate on the nature and purpose of civil marriage play out at the ballot box and in state legislatures, the court took it upon itself to end that debate and redefine marriage as “the union of two people” — something no civilization in world history had done until 15 years ago.

Roberts openly castigated his fellow justices for their hubris, expressing the weight of precedent against their case in sweeping terms:

“The Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States,” he wrote, “and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?”

Joining Roberts in a blistering dissent that reminded Meagan Garber at The Atlantic of the most rancorous crossfire in Congress, Justice Antonin Scalia mocked the majority’s wishful arguments:

“The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

He goes on, rebuking his colleagues for “concluding that every State violated the Constitution for all of the 135 years between the 14th Amendment’s ratification and Massachusetts’ permitting of same-sex marriages in 2003. They have discovered in the 14th Amendment a ‘fundamental right’ overlooked by every person alive at the time of ratification.”

And for Roberts, the reasoning in the opinion from Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Kennedy was troubling because it applies with equal force to further redefinitions of marriage. After all, if marriage isn’t inherently complementary or procreative, then why should it involve only two partners?

“It is striking,” Roberts writes, “how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.”

Even more troubling was the opinion’s disregard for the roughly half of Americans who disagree — especially those whose faith teaches that homosexual relations are sinful and that marriage has only one definition. Will dissenting photographers, bakers, caterers, and florists be allowed to sit out of same-sex ceremonies? Will the law require religious adoption agencies to place children with gay couples? Will seminaries be allowed to deny housing to the partners of gay students? Could all of these groups face financial penalties for sticking to their beliefs? Justice Kennedy, who cast the deciding vote and authored the opinion, tipped his hat to religious dissenters’ right to “teach the principles” that are central to our faith. But he failed to acknowledge the right to freely exercise that faith — a right Roberts reminds us — unlike gay “marriage” — is spelled out in the Constitution.

“Hard questions arise,” writes the chief justice, “when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage.”

And Justice Samuel Alito foresees hard times for holdouts who continue to fight the legitimization of homosexuality.

“[This decision] will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” he writes. “In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

The ruling set off a tsunami of celebrations nationwide, online, in the media, and even on government buildings and beloved American landmarks. Nearly half of the country watched in disbelief as the White House, Disney World, and Niagara Falls were all illuminated in the LGBT movement’s trademark rainbow colors.

The celebration belied a cultural revolution flush with victory and eager to punish dissenters. Before the weekend was out, Mark Oppenheimer had already penned a TIME magazine article demanding the government revoke the tax-exempt status of Christian charities and churches nationwide.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage makes it clearer than ever,” he writes, “that the government shouldn’t be subsidizing religion and nonprofits.”

In view of this, Christians should look at the future realistically. In words frequently applied to the “gay rights” movement, the Apostle Paul described the degradation of humanity in Romans 1, mentioning homosexuality as a characteristic sin of a people whom God has given over to “dishonorable passions” and “a debased mind.” America is treading a dangerous path from which few civilizations have returned.

But the news isn’t all bad. As forward-thinking Christians have pointed out, judicial victory for same-sex “marriage” may mean the end of the culture war as we know it, but it also means the end of cultural Christianity — and that’s a good thing. In the years to come, Christianity will likely fade as a social and political brand and become an unpopular and countercultural identity — even in the “Bible Belt.” Statistics already hint that this process is underway, with so-called “nones” on the rise and nominal Christians abandoning the pews in droves. And the distinctions between the Church and the world could further sharpen, making Christian faith more meaningful and central than it has been in generations.

The task for God’s people in the midst of this shift is simple: to witness against and witness to a nation turning its back on him. As the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13-16), we ought to taste different. And preserving our savor will often mean saying things that sting our neighbors’ new sensibilities. It’s also looking more likely by the day that Christians will face not only disapproval, but real consequences for swimming against the tide. We’ve been here before.

The Apostle Peter, writing to Christians in a similar situation, gave clear instructions:

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14-16).

Even over objections from the more restrained justices, the Supreme Court has endorsed a view of mankind and marriage fundamentally at odds with nature, history, and Scripture. And this new view is already coming into conflict with our freedom to believe and live differently. But believe and live differently we must, because no matter what America’s High Court declares, we answer to a higher Judge — one whose decisions aren’t subject to appeal.

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