Before ‘Obergefell’ became forever linked to a landmark Supreme Court decision, it was the surname of Jim Obergefell. In 2013, Jim boarded a small, medically-equipped plane with his partner, John Arthur. John was dying of ALS, and the couple hoped to marry before the disease fully consumed him. However, in order to do this, the Ohio couple had to travel to Maryland, as their own state did not perform or recognize same-sex marriages. Several months after returning from their 10-minute wedding on a Maryland Tarmac, John passed away. As a result of the state’s marriage laws, Ohio refused to acknowledge Jim’s status as a widower. Financially, there was little to gain (some $255 in Social Security benefits). Jim simply wanted his home state of Ohio to dignify his relationship with legal recognition. But this event precipitated the legal battle that would fundamentally change the definition of marriage in America.
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 in favor of Jim Obergefell, effectively establishing that state prohibitions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. To rule otherwise, so Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded, would mean “condemning” gay and lesbian Americans to “loneliness.” In his concluding paragraph, which Slate praised as “one of the most beautiful passages you’ll likely read in a court case,” Kennedy declared, “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.”
Many analyses of Obergefell have pointed out contradictions in the ruling and fallacies in the cultural logic that legitimated it. This is good and necessary. Yet as millennial Christians, we do not find these arguments compelling. Not because they lack validity or coherence, but because such arguments fail to address the “truthiness”—a word Stephen Colbert invented to satirize our generation’s hyper-subjectivity—of Obergefell. In an interview Colbert explained, “It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty. … It’s not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true.” For our generation, addressing Obergefell in a compelling manner requires understanding its emotionally subjective nature.
As millennials, we find ourselves swept up by the story of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur; we are moved by Jim’s steadfastness and commitment to John throughout his suffering and death. Even though we are unmarried, Justice Kennedy’s rhetoric warms our hearts. Who hasn’t wrestled with loneliness? Who doesn’t long for the kind of “I am yours and you are mine” relationship vowed in marriage. And yet as Christians committed to the truth of Scripture, we can grant neither that God consecrates same-sex marriages nor that marriage is the solitary structure in which the Lord meets our need for community.
A year after Obergefell, Christians are at a crossroads of Christ and culture. Christians must once again decide if we will maintain our faith commitments even when they are in conflict with the values of our neighbors, friends, and family. While some professing Christians choose to believe or not believe certain passages of the Bible to privilege their personal understanding, this practice is predicated upon a kind of relativism which necessarily denies the objective nature of Scripture. The subjectivity of picking and choosing which passages to accept and which to ignore is both damaging and futile. Such attempts result in the creation of false gods (that tend to resemble one’s own image). Instead of equivocation, Christians should embrace the fact that the culture is changing and prepare for the uphill journey ahead.
First, those who wish to uphold the sanctity of marriage—as defined by God at creation—must be prepared for social estrangement. There may come a time when orthodox Christians are considered just as hateful and dangerous as the people of Westboro Baptist. This will, perhaps, introduce hardship for Christians as we have, in the past, easily found approval with our unbelieving neighbors. But even as we are socially marginalized, Christians can rejoice that our “backwards” beliefs progressively anticipate the future of the world under Christ’s reign.
Second, as same-sex relationships continue to gain acceptance, Christians must be prepared to stand by the Word of God. We must maintain our beliefs when confronted with America’s new reality. We will be told that same-sex marriage is no different than traditional marriage, that same-sex relationships are just as loving and healthy as heterosexual ones. And in the future, if not already, people we are close to, including family members, will profess same-sex attraction. These scenarios and others like them will present emotional challenges to our commitment to biblical truth. Yet we must not allow them to lead us to deny God’s truth by affirming same-sex marriage. Instead, let them direct us toward a more loving and understanding way of engaging this issue and approaching our same-sex attracted friends and family.
Lastly, Christians should not react to the changing culture by closing our mouths. We are called to proclaim the gospel in its fullness. We proclaim the hope of salvation generously and joyfully to all people, no matter their race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. If we honestly believe that the gospel is true and that it has the power to radically change lives, we must confidently announce the Good News that Jesus has come to save the lost.
In a post-Obergefell America, Christians will be expected to voice approval of same-sex marriage. But we are called to tell the truth about marriage, which reflects the truth of the gospel. And we will. For someday we will stand in God’s eternal kingdom with brothers and sisters, including those who struggled with same-sex attraction, singing praises to our great and glorious God.