The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage has almost nothing to do directly with religion or religious institutions.
Which is to say that faith communities continue to be free to bless or not bless gay unions. And that is as it should be. President Obama was right in this response to the ruling that struck down the odious and clearly unconstitutional federal Defense of Marriage Act:
"On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that."
That said, the rapid and remarkable shift in public opinion about this matter should give faith communities pause. Is the populace wrong? Is the court wrong? Can this movement toward legal equality and freedom of choice be considered a stab in the heart of religion?
Well, the easy answers to those questions are no, no and no. But it's more complicated than that.
Which is to say that religion does not and cannot determine its principles, its teachings, its values according to popular opinion. Religion, after all, is in the business of eternal perspectives and values.
Beyond that, religion has something of an odd relationship with the concept of freedom. Which is to say that religion wants to set people free but also wants to get people to commit themselves to be servants.
The very word Islam, for instance, means submission to God. And all religions urge their adherents to submit to a higher authority. So one of the tasks of religion is to equip people to be free enough to want to submit in that way. And such submission, religion argues, truly sets one free.
It's paradoxical and, thus, sometimes hard for outsiders to understand.
But as it relates to the question of gay marriage, religion should be in the business of setting people free and advocating equal treatment for everybody under the law. As religion would put it, all are children of God and, thus, all must be treated equally and with respect.
That is not the case when the state denies the rights and responsibilities of marriage (or almost any other situation) to one group but not to another.
So this ruling was about making sure that all citizens have equal civil -- not religious -- rights. And in California (and several other states) it now means gay couples can be married legally.
But that does not mean that faith communities must now bless those civil marriages. Such communities still may say no.
Still, the recent high court ruling surely must move some adherents of religions that say no to same-sex marriage to wonder why and perhaps even to seek redress within the faith.
(For my essay on what the Bible says about homosexuality, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.)
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AND NOW FOR SOMETHING. . .
For a bit of a different look at marriage, there's this interesting story from Alabama about a young male-female couple and their views on same-sex marriage at the time of their own wedding. America: 300 million people, 600 million opinions.