Ruling is controversial, but individual rights will prevail
Published 7:39 am Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Like the rest of the country, Tennessee residents have mixed reactions to the Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed same-sex couples throughout the nation the freedom to marry and the right to recognition of their marriage.
Reactions have also been mixed locally. The Sunday after the ruling, a group representing several Carter County churches held a prayer meeting on the courthouse lawn. It was their way of standing up “for right and wrong” and taking a stand for God’s Word and law.
Up until the ruling by the high court late last month, each state had it own laws regarding same-sex marriage. Tennessee, strongly conservative, was one of those states that did not recognize same-sex unions, including civil unions, domestic partnerships and same-sex marriage
Recalling some of the emotional rhetoric on both sides of the debate, we can only imagine how upset a good many Tennesseans are after the June 26 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that makes same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
Many Bible-believing Christians in the state may feel as if their nation has betrayed them or that our national fabric has been altered for the worse by the court’s ruling. It was if the High Court was saying to Christians: “We know better than God how to define marriage.”
The ruling will radically alter our culture. We should not be deluded into believing nothing will change.
In fact, the first marriage license issued in Carter County to a same-sex couple — two women — came just three days after the court ruling.
Yet, the United States has always been about individual rights, even to the point that those rights occasionally trump majority rule.
The ruling could be compared to an earthquake. It has shaken the foundations of faith on which so many Americans base their beliefs and their lives. And, like an earthquake, the initial upheaval is only the beginning. Recovery can take a long time and there can be aftershocks.
The Supreme Court’s ruling follows decades of activism by gay rights and civil liberties organizations that campaigned for the right of all Americans to marry, regardless of their sexual orientation. The declaration of same-sex marriage activists is that they did not set out to diminish the sanctity of traditional marriage between one man and one women, but only to secure the same right for all Americans.
Our state was one of the 13 states that did not recognize same-sex marriage and whose leadership fought fiercely in federal courts to defend our ban on same-sex marriages. The fight now is finished and, difficult as it will be for some of us, we all must accept the change and move on.
How do we move forward? First, let’s respect our neighbors and friends. For some, the ruling might come as a sign that it’s time to publicly declare their love and go through the rituals of marriage. For other Tennesseans, moving forward will compel them to stand up for the tenets of their faith. The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal, but the court cannot compel any church to perform same sex marriages, nor can the court prevent churches from performing same sex marriages.
The nonpartisan Pew Research Center notes that “virtually everyone agrees that the First Amendment … protects clergy from being required to officiate at marriages for same-sex couples and churches from being forced to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in their sanctuaries.”
However, a couple of Tennessee lawmakers already plan to introduce the “Pastor Protection Act.” The law reiterates protections already in place.
We’ve heard it many times: With freedom comes responsibility. Americans have entered a moment in history in which our responsibility as citizens requires us to respect individual rights. That would include the rights of same-sex couples, but also the rights of pastors and others whose roles inevitably will place them at odds with people on either side of this issue.
We don’t have to agree with the court’s decision, but we must let our actions emphatically express our respect for the tenets on which our nation was founded: liberty and justice for all.