Article

Supreme Court denies review of petitions over same-sex marriage

Oct 6, 2014

This morning’s announcement that the Supreme Court denied review of several petitions over disputes about the legal recognition of same-sex marriage has produced a flood of responses and speculation about the future of marriage in America.

But what do we know right now? By refusing to hear arguments in several jurisdictions about whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, the Supreme Court allows these lower court opinions to stand and same-sex marriage to proceed. Regrettably, what the Supreme Court has done is to allow bad rulings that wrest authority away from citizens and place it within an unaccountable judiciary, to stand. These actions are in conflict with the principle of self-government. And like we’ve seen happen elsewhere countless times, same-sex marriage is a demonstrated threat to religious liberty. We don’t know why the Supreme Court acted like it did, and speculation on such matters is fruitless, but the actions of today have real world consequences: Citizens now have a more diminished role in making important decisions about the meaning of marriage and family.

The Supreme Court punted. For now, same-sex marriage remains a matter within the states. It should remain there. But even that needs qualification in light of how the courts have acted on this issue. Even within the states, the signs are discouraging. Increasingly, marriage’s definition is coming from the courts within these states and circuits, rather than through citizens. Today’s actions by the Supreme Court reinforces the troubling trend that individual states and its citizens are left unprotected from the actions of judges that view themselves as Philosopher-Kings. The political resolution to the problem before us is for judges to refrain from ruling on marriage's definition altogether. The political resolution is for citizens, legislators, and judges to recognize that the political duty of the government is to recognize marriage, not redefine it. It doesn't require a Christian assembly or a Christian population to understand marriage correctly. Marriage has been universally understood by all cultures as something distinct and prior to the state. Diverse and indeed, very irreligious cultures have also recognized this. From a Christian perspective, marriage isn't subject to judicial review or the changing opinions of voters. Courts might convince themselves that they're ruling new institutions into reality, and that they do so by constitutional fiat, but in these situations, courts are merely acting upon a legal mechanism that allows them to manufacture legal fictions into law.

The number of states where same-sex marriage is legal is expanding. Once the dust settles from today, it’s possible that up to 30 states may soon recognize same-sex marriage. Soon, the precedent set by varous courts may soon make the number of states that allow same-sex marriage more numerous than the states that have voted to preserve marriage as the union of a man and woman. The effort to redefine marriage is perhaps the fastest, most effective social change in our nation’s history. This is not written with applause in mind. The furthered erosion or deinstitutionalization of marriage that comes by redefining it will re-wire or re-circuit how we understand family arrangements.

But today isn’t an occasion for hand wringing or the adoption of what ERLC President Russell Moore calls “a siege mentality” where “we wring our hands or shake our fists at the cultural moment in a way that also detracts from the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in an era in which marriage is redefined and confused. So did many of our forefathers and foremothers, which is why the Bible is consistently equipping the churches to live in a world of prostitution and adultery and so on. The sexual revolution didn’t start at Woodstock. It is always with us. We ought to have the confidence of people who have heard a word from God and the compassion of a people who are on a mission with God. The Supreme Court can do many things, but the Supreme Court cannot get Jesus back into his cemetery plot.”

Today's ruling is concerning. But an appropriate response to the schemes of man may just be a hearty laugh (Psalms 2:4). But the mission in response to today’s news is the same as it was yesterday. In every age and in every cultural moment, Christians are vested with a holy vocation, one that reveals the truths and patterns of the cosmos—like marriage—in every house and every local congregation. Our ministry context and our culture are rapidly changing, but Christians hold firm the conviction that a constantly changing society is no match for an eternally unchanging King (Hebrews 13:8).

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew T. Walker is the Director of Research and Senior Fellow in Christian Ethics at the ERLC. In his role, he researches, speaks, and writes about the intersection of Christian ethics, public policy, and the church’s social witness. He also... Read More