Who Won, Who Lost? The Supremes Redefine Marriage

Paul Greenberg
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Posted: Jun 30, 2015 12:45 PM
Who Won, Who Lost? The Supremes Redefine Marriage
The hopes and fears of all the years met last week in Obergefell v. Hodges, the narrow but sweeping decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that proclaims homosexual couples have a right to marry anywhere in the country. Congratulations to them. At first glance, they've scored a significant victory, even if the score was just 5 to 4.

On equally cursory reading, the states have been handed a significant defeat. The whole, general idea of federalism -- that states get to determine their own laws when it comes to a variety of intimate issues, like marriage and divorce -- has been undermined. Our condolences to those who still believe in that separation of jurisdictions under our Constitution, with some powers reserved to the states and others to the federal government.

To quote Chief Justice John Roberts' dissent: "If you are among the many Americans -- of whatever sexual orientation -- who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it."

Naturally the majority opinion was written by His (always flexible) Honor Anthony M. Kennedy, whose convictions about the law of the land, if any, are as steady as a swinging door, shifting from right to left in step with public sentiment at the time. He's the kind of justice who's just about converted American law into another public opinion poll.


In a curious way, those who most object to this latest reading of the law, among them Christian evangelicals, may have scored a significant victory, too, for it frees them to return to their roots as a countercultural movement standing apart from the pagan society in which the first Christians appeared. Once again Christianity can be the fighting faith it was meant to be, not just another part of the establishment. This is called bearing witness, and it's time the church did, loud and clear.

For too long, too many Christians have longed to be too respectable. They've fallen into the Relevance Trap, simply echoing the dominant culture. But by imitating pop culture, they've distanced themselves from what one perceptive Christian minister called the church's "historically prophetic position in society. Relating to the world by following the world is a recipe for disaster." Instead, the church should stand apart. And let the world know it.

To quote the Rev. Rick Scarborough on the Supremes' decision to recognize homosexual marriages as the law of the land: "We will denounce this practice in our services, we will not teach it in our schools, we will refuse to officiate at this type of wedding...."

Once again the distinction between Rome and Jerusalem may be made clear. The focus of debate in the future might even move from the rights of homosexual couples to the rights of believers not to acquiesce in practices they abhor. For freedom of religion is part of the First Amendment, too.

How long before a new Paul, he of the New Testament, will be writing blazing letters? Or a new Dietrich Bonhoeffer will arise to stir us? That pastor resisted another government's decrees when Nazi Germany was supposed to be the Wave of the Future.

Some of us can hardly wait for the appearance of such new prophets and old prophecies renewed. For political/legal defeats can lead to moral victories. It can free us to express our deepest, best, most resistant selves no matter what the dominant culture may try to impose on us.

Onward, Christian soldiers!