Monday, June 27, 2016

Freedom of religion and gay marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision certain to be blasted as an assault on freedom of religion, has ruled that county clerks may not refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of religious objections.

This is as it should be.

The decision should be the final word in an argument that has been brewing ever since the court issued its 5-4 ruling on June 26, 2015, that recognized the right of same-sex couples in America to marry. Particularly in the South, a number of Christian conservatives reacted with dismay to the decision. One, Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Ky., county clerk, actually went to jail rather than issue marriage licenses to gay couples, on the grounds that Christianity forbids her from having anything to do with supporting gay marriage. 

The basis for this sort of opposition is handful of places in the Bible that mention homosexuality, including two verses in Leviticus, a passage in Romans, and another passage in 1 Corinthians. Because these writings unequivocally present homosexuality in a negative light, Davis and her defenders have argued that they should not sign off on marriage licenses, and that the First Amendment protects that right.

They are wrong. The Supreme Court got this one right.

Some of my fellow Christians may disagree; however, I would point out firstly that those whose consciences are deeply troubled by same-sex marriage are free to leave jobs that require officiating at them or that in some way assisting with their processing. If we believe that there is a fundamental conflict between their faith and their job, our faith instructs us to place our faith first and recognize that we cannot meet the requirements of the job. Freedom of religion does allow us to make that choice. A lack of religious freedom would require us to stay in those jobs and perform those tasks.

More fundamentally, though, this does not rise to the level that we should feel it requires civil disobedience, nor should we pretend it does. Don't approve of same-sex marriage? OK, don't approve. The First Amendment grants you that right. There is no punishment for having a religious position on anything.

But if you take the view that same-sex marriage offends the Almighty, the best you can argue is that it offends him morally and not because it is an issue of justice that requires a principled stand. Look at all the prophets in the Bible. They were angry about things like workers denied wages, exploitation of the poor and the immigrant, and acts of cruelty. When the prophets warned of God's coming judgment, it was never because of gay people or same-sex relationships. Not even once.

Those other issues, though? Number-one theme of the Bible, Genesis through Revelation.

If we can't affirm the dignity and right of same-sex couples to marry, then let's at least stop fighting it, and focus our energies on the things that actually matter to God.

Copyright ©2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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