5 Thoughts on Same-Sex Marriage and the Church

Written by Founder Raul Rivera on Jul 18, 2013 in Tough Laws

By now most ministers and leaders have heard that the Supreme Court issued a ruling on June 26, 2013, that will have far-reaching consequences for both churches and ministries.  In our last Ultimate Church Structure Conference many ministers asked me privately what my thoughts were concerning this ruling.  Follow with me as I take you through five thoughts I have on this ruling.  In particular, I want to draw your attention to my fifth thought. 

1.  The ruling does not strike down any state laws or constitutions

Contrary to the belief of many, the Court did not rule that same-sex marriage was a constitutionally protected right.  It simply ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) codified in 1 USC § 7 was unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  It is important to note that DOMA is a law that only affects Acts of Congress, Federal Rulings, Regulations, IRS Tax Code, and other government agencies.

The court made a point to clarify that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional because it was "federal intrusion on state power . . ." and that the "State's power in defining the marital relation is of central relevance in this case quite apart from principles of federalism."  So in essence, the Court ruled that the definition of marriage is a power that belongs to the states under the Tenth Amendment because it lies outside of the authority of Congress.

2.  This issue will end up in the Supreme Court again

Though the Supreme Court ruling limited its decision to Section 3 of DOMA, it appears that the 5 justices who ruled the majority opinion have a strong inclination to rule that state laws and constitutions defining marriage as between one man and one woman violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  It does not need to surprise the church that a powerful offense has been building up for many years and I do not think that the First Amendment rights of people of faith will be highly considered.  Proponents of same-sex marriage are ready to take this up state by state.  The ACLU has already filed suits in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. 

13 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages:  Washington, California, Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Maine, and Maryland. 

Seven states allow civil unions:  Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, New Jersey, and Hawaii.  Oddly enough, though these states allow civil union, some of them outlaw same-sex marriage.

37 states have outlawed same-sex marriage either in their constitution or by legislation:  Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Alaska.

3.  The Court's ruling does not force ministers to conduct same-sex weddings

Ministers are free to fully exercise their disciplines of faith and refuse to marry anyone whose lifestyle is contrary to their religious beliefs.

4. Public accommodation laws could cause problems for churches and ministries

The Court was very narrow in its decision.  It primarily focused on the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA and was careful not to stray into other areas of law.  However, it's ruling does open the possibility of states and courts expanding public accommodation laws beyond the intended purpose of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  I see some states making attempts to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches that deny use of their facilities to conduct same-sex weddings on the basis that it violates sincerely held religious beliefs.  One example is California's Unruh Civil Rights Act (California Civil Code section 51), which was amended in 2005 to include "sexual orientation." The state of California can amend it again to redefine "places of public accommodation" to include churches and schools, forcing them alllow same sex weddings.  This will have far reaching consequences unless the church proactively prepares itself as I suggest in number 5 below. 

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against a Methodist retreat center when they denied an application from two people wanting to rent their facilities to conduct a same-sex civil union.  The denial was based on doctrinal reasons, yet the NJ Supreme Court overruled the ministry on the basis that their doctrinal views were not sufficiently documented in any of their public records. 

5.  Churches and ministries need to proactively prepare to preserve dearly held disciplines of faith

A consequence of this ruling is that churches will face new challenges at the state level.  There are many who have taught that churches should add same-sex marriage clauses to their bylaws and other organizing documents.  While I agree that the church's organizing documents need to contain language that deals with same-sex marriage, simply adding a clause to the bylaws and other organizing documents stating the church's position on same-sex marriage is hardly enough. 

For almost two years now in our Conferences, I have taught that we are living in a hostile legislative and judicial culture.  Preparation for the fast evolving effects of same-sex marriage laws requires churches to adopt an entire strategy.  We teach churches and ministries a strategy that begins with carefully drafted written doctrines and then moves to the articles of incorporation, followed by the bylaws, and finally, to the church's 501(c)(3).  While this article is not the appropriate context to fully address this strategy, we cover it in detail at all of our conferences.  Jesus warned us to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.  As soon as He finished warning the disciples, He stated, "Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.  On My account you will be brought before governors and kings . . ."   He was telling them to be wise as serpents in order to avoid legal persecutions.  Like it or not Church, the issue of same-sex marriage will be one of the leading factors bringing a new wave of legal persecution against the Church and people of faith.

Closing thoughts

The most important part in leading a ministry during such tumultuous political times is to remain steadfast and non-reactionary.  Errors in our leadership usually occur when we allow culture and courts to determine whether we have peace in our hearts.  On more than one occasion, Jesus spoke to His disciples of upcoming trials, urging them to not let their hearts be troubled, and to see to it that their hearts were not alarmed.  The Bible says that when Jesus returns, the government will be upon His shoulders. Until that time, I encourage every pastor or ministry leader to pray and to be unmoved by the winds that blow.  At StartCHURCH, we want to be a source of strength through educating pastors and leaders on what today’s laws are and how they can or cannot affect their ministries.  We will cover topics like this at all of our Ultimate Church Structure Conferences.

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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