Is It Really the “Beginning of the End”?

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court held that two people of the same sex have a constitutional right to be married.  The decision, celebrated by many, is a cause for more than a little bit of hand-wringing by others – particularly those who believe that for religious reasons marriage can only mean the indissoluble union between one man and one woman.  Friends I love dearly fall on both sides of that divide.

I’m not interested here in debating the merits of the Supreme Court’s decision, or of same-sex marriage for that matter.  But I would merely share a couple of thoughts with my friends on both sides of the issue.

First, and this is directed to all of us, with respect to the tone with which we continue our conversations on this issue, one of the best things I read yesterday was from Bishop Gregory Hartmayer.  He wrote

This Court action is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.

The moral debate however must also include the way that we treat one another – especially those with whom we may disagree. We are all God’s children and are commanded to love one another. In many respects that moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as is the granting of this civil entitlement.

This decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.

Second, In the aftermath of the announcement of the Supreme Court’s opinion, the sounds of Chicken Little have been heard across the internet.  To share some of the lines I read: “See you in jail”; “It’s the beginning of the end”; “The sky is falling”; “Same sex marriage is more distressing than terrorism”; and “Persecution is beginning.”

To those who have expressed or harbored such thoughts, I’d suggest a pause and a deep breath.  First, I am reminded when I hear the sounds of doom of the passage in Acts where the Sanhedrin wanted to put Peter and the apostles to death for their preaching. A Pharisee named Gamaliel argued against doing so with this simple claim: “if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”  I would say something similar here: my faith that God has a plan and that God’s plan will prevail is strong and unshakeable.  This is not the “beginning of the end.”

Second, it may, in fact be, that this decision leads to less protection for religious liberty than many of us would like to see.  Those who stand firm for their religious convictions have faced hardship before and they will do so again.  The test is how the handle themselves, how they witness to their faith, in the fact of such hardship.

To those on the other side of the divide, it is good to remember that those who oppose same-sex marriage do so not out of bigotry or hate, but out of deep-seated religious convictions about the nature of the human person.  Out of the belief that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained by God.  And, that whatever one’s view on the matter, we are all brothers and sisters, children of that God.  One can believe in gay marriage without believing it necessary to force those with religious beliefs to the margins of our society in one way or the other.

Update: Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s statement sounds a similar tone to Bishop Hartmayer’s.  He writes:

This judgment, however, does not absolve either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Neither is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own. It is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.

This moral debate must also include the way that we treat one another – especially those with whom we may disagree. In many respects, the moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as the granting of this civil entitlement. The decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter, especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.

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