Now that I'm back from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' annual conference in Indianapolis, I want to say a few words of comfort to people -- especially Christians -- who, unlike me, did not welcome the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage legal across the country.
The court did not change a thing about Christian marriage. It had no power to do so. If your congregation or denomination does not wish to perform marriages for same-sex couples, it doesn't have to, though it may feel pressure.
The reality is that in most weddings in churches, two ceremonies take place. One is a civil marriage, in which the pastor serves as an agent for the state. The other is a religious wedding, in which the pastor serves as an agent for the church. (In some traditions, the pastor is just an observer, watching as the man and woman marry themselves.)
These two ceremonies should be separate, in my view. Not having them be so leads to the kind of church-state confusion that clearly plagues many people opposed to same-sex marriage.
If every couple -- straight or gay -- wanting to be married were required to have a civil ceremony, that confusion would end. After that ceremony, those who want to have their union blessed by a faith community could ask for that. The faith community is free to say yes or no.
Under that system, we have both equality under the law and religious liberty.
There, now. That wasn't so hard, was it?
And yet we have lots of people making comments like the one by a pastor in this New York Times piece: "We cannot accept or adhere to any legal, political or cultural redefinition of biblical marriage, nor will we conduct or endorse same-sex ceremonies." The court did not redefine biblical marriage (which is what?). Rather, it said that same-sex couples have the same civil rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to being recognized by the state as a legally married couple.
The truth is that the Bible really has nothing useful to say about homosexuality -- and certainly nothing that would require people who hold the Bible to be the word of God to condemn homosexuals or homosexuality. (For my essay that explains what I just said, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.)
The rapid change in public opinion about LGBTQ people (a change that took only hundreds of years to be an overnight success) has been remarkable. I am thrilled that compassion, open-heartedness and respect are winning the day.
For people who remain opposed to same-sex marriage, I can hope only that they understand they don't have to get such a marriage. All they need to do is understand that their fellow citizens deserve equality under the law -- and thanks to the Supreme Court they now have it.
(I thought attorney Jessica Eaves Mathews did a good job of making the church-state point that I'm trying to make here in this Facebook post. And I was pleased to see this piece about Janie Spahr, a retired Presbyterian pastor who has worked for equity for LGBTQ people in the church for years.)
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I THINK THEY LIKE ME
I was profoundly honored this past Friday evening in Indianapolis to receive the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' "Legacy Award," for what my new plaque calls "extraordinary duty" to NSNC over the years. I served the organization as vice president and then president in the early 1990s. Later I was archivist and have been active in many other ways with this kicky group that helps columnists be better at what they do. We move our annual conference around each year. Last year we were in Washington, D.C., and next year we will be in the Los Angeles area. In 1995 I was conference host here in Kansas City. If you know columnists who are not yet NSNC members, ask them why the heck not and give them the columnists.com website.