Four Years After Obergefell: Has the Sky Fallen?

Four Years After Obergefell: Has the Sky Fallen? July 5, 2019

The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges passed its four-year anniversary a few days ago. Let’s check in with a conservative Christian declaration published just before the case was decided. How well do their warnings hold up four years after the decision?

Their “Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage” outlines an inept argument against such a ruling and threatens unspecified consequences if the Supreme Court makes them mad. Let’s explore that jeremiad pledge and an advertisement that went along with it.

(Time hasn’t been kind to this argument when we notice that the original links are no longer valid. Perhaps these conservatives realize that this project isn’t something they want to be reminded of. Let’s shove their faces in their dirty laundry.)

God has spoken!

First, the ad wants to make clear who’s the boss.

We will not honor any decision by the Supreme Court which will force us to violate a clear biblical understanding of marriage as solely the union of one man and one woman.

Is there a “clear biblical understanding of marriage”? Not really. Not only do you disagree on same-sex marriage within your own religion, the Bible says much about all sorts of embarrassing marriage customs and prohibitions sanctioned by God: a prohibition on interracial marriage, concubine sex, sanctioned rape, genocide while keeping the virgin girls, slave marriage, levirate marriage, and of course polygamy. You still want to go with “clear biblical understanding”?

You can believe whatever you want, just don’t imagine that your beliefs will be taken into account when making laws. You need a secular argument in a land governed by a secular constitution.

What Would MLK Do?

From the ad:

We affirm that any judicial opinion which purports to redefine marriage will constitute an unjust law, as Martin Luther King Jr. described such laws in his [1963] letter from the Birmingham Jail.

Not quite. Let’s look at what Dr. King actually wrote about just and unjust laws in that letter. He said, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” King’s work was exclusively aimed at expanding rights and privileges for those who had been discriminated against. You want to follow his advice? Then in the debate over same-sex marriage, look to what ruling would “[uplift] human personality” and what would degrade it.

There’s not love enough in your heart to expand the institution of marriage so that other loving couples can share it? You complain about easy divorce and raising families outside of marriage, and yet you snub a group that wants to embrace marriage? Rethink your position.

Dr. King added, “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.” Here again, the “defense of marriage” faction that hopes to repurpose Dr. King finds that he isn’t cooperating. Law that restricts marriage to two straight people suits these Christian conservatives just fine. They can marry whomever they love, though it doesn’t work that way for homosexuals. The majority seeks a law that it “does not make binding on itself.”

To take this further, some conservative Christians say that their church would embrace homosexuals, as long as they’re celibate. This sounds like an enormous burden they thoughtlessly impose on others with no concern for the cost. What I want to see is such a Christian walking the walk. That is, I want to see a 20-something straight Christian who commits to a celibate life to demonstrate that it’s a reasonable request. They declare how much they love their homosexual brothers and sisters. Surely there are thousands of Christian men eager to make this pledge—no?

Apparently, marriage is all about the sex. Who knew?

The Pledge says:

Conferring a moral and legal equivalency to any relationship other than marriage between a man and a woman, by legislative or judicial fiat, sends the message that children do not need a mother and a father. As a policy matter, such unions convey the message that moms and dads are completely irrelevant to the well-being of children.

Flailing around for an argument, these conservative Christians want to imagine that marriage is about nothing but children. But of course there’s nothing in the traditional marriage vows about making babies: “To have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Nor is there an obligation in a state’s marriage license about making babies. Nor are married couples ever penalized for not having the correct number of babies (more).

That they’re forced to shoehorn marriage into this “making babies” mold proves that playing politics is their goal, not guarding the sanctity of marriage.

What fraction of the population is homosexual? What fraction of that will get married? And what fraction of that will bring new children into the marriage? This is a very small percentage of all children. If caring for children were actually a goal, they’d focus on helping the millions of children in imperfect homes—those with just one parent or poor medical care or a dangerous neighborhood or not enough income. A mixed-gender couple isn’t mandatory for children; rather, a healthy family environment is what’s important.

This is not their focus, and caring for children is obviously not their goal.

The Court had better know its place

Back to the ad:

No civil institution, including the United States Supreme Court or any court, has authority to redefine marriage.

That ship has already sailed. There’s Davis v. Beason (1890), which stomped on the Mormons’ biblically based right to polygamy. There’s Loving v. Virginia (1973) that threw the Bible in the garbage by declaring that mixed-race marriage was legal in every state. Divorce has been made easier. Adultery has been largely decriminalized. Marital rape is now a crime. “Head and Master” laws, which put the man in charge of a household’s assets, are gone.

You do know that the Bible doesn’t call the shots in a country with a secular constitution, right?

The sky is falling! Marriage will be destroyed!

No kidding—that’s what they really claim will happen.

We will not stand by while the destruction of the institution of marriage unfolds in this nation we love.

My, aren’t we dramatic! I think someone needs some pearls to clutch.

It’s been four years for the country and fifteen years for the first state, Massachusetts. Same-sex marriage is legal in about 30 countries. Has marriage been destroyed? It seems to me that this fight has only enhanced the reputation of marriage as a desirable and valuable institution at a time when it’s seen as optional to many.

Punch line: don’t infringe my right to discriminate

This will bring about an inevitable collision with religious freedom and conscience rights.

Yep, just like before. And the state will prevail over religious prejudice, just like before. The Mormons lost their fight for polygamy. Racists against mixed-race marriage lost their fight for racial purity. I’m all for people’s right to their religious beliefs, regardless of what I think of those beliefs, but that right ends when society declares that it infringes on something more important.

As people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law. We respectfully warn the Supreme Court not to cross this line.

In the U.S., the Constitution runs the country, not the Bible. If that’s a problem for you, I can help you find the door.

We stand united together in defense of marriage. Make no mistake about our resolve.

Seriously? This is the hill you want to die on—the right to discriminate? To restrict rights? You worship a god whose prejudices mirror your own?

Remember that Martin Luther King was universally trying to expand rights. Don’t you get tired of always being in the same bin as the KKK? Can’t you pick an important issue to focus on?

Go ahead—hold your breath to try to get your way. Your view is becoming more extreme. It will look even more so tomorrow.

The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie—
deliberate, contrived and dishonest—
but the myth—persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.
Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears.
We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations.

We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
— John F. Kennedy


(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 6/17/15.)

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