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Supreme Court to address religious freedom issues

By Bishop John A. M. Guernsey

First, the definition of marriage will likely be decided. The proponents of same sex marriage argue for a romantic view of marriage, that marriage in its essence is an emotional bond between two (or more?) people with legal privileges. Contrast that romantic view with what has been, until the last few years, the universal view of marriage across cultures and religions: that marriage is a union between a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other for the sake of children.

In the words of Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, “Marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. It is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are different and complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children need both a mother and a father” (in Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It).

The Alabama Supreme Court expressed the nature of marriage clearly in a recent ruling: “[M]arriage has always been between members of the opposite sex. The obvious reason for this immutable characteristic is nature. Men and women complement each other biologically and socially. Perhaps even more obvious, the sexual union between men and women (often) produces children. Marriage demonstrably channels the results of sex between members of the opposite sex – procreation – in a socially advantageous manner. It creates the family, the institution that is almost universally acknowledged to be the building block of society at large because it provides the optimum environment for defining the responsibilities of parents and for raising children to become productive members of society.”

Government has a strong interest in protecting children but very little interest in marriage under the romantic redefinition. The Alabama Supreme Court said, “In short, government has an obvious interest in offspring and the consequences that flow from the creation of each new generation, which is only naturally possible in the opposite-sex relationship, which is the primary reason marriage between men and women is sanctioned by State law.”

It would be hard to overstate the significance of what may come from the U.S. Supreme Court. “The only way one can establish the unconstitutionality of man–woman marriage laws is to adopt a view of marriage that sees it as an essentially genderless, adult-centric institution and then declare that the Constitution requires that the states (re)define marriage in such a way. In other words, one needs to establish that the vision of marriage our law has long applied is wrong and that the Constitution requires a different vision. There is, however, no basis in the Constitution for reaching that conclusion” (Memo to Supreme Court: State Marriage Laws Are Constitutional, by Gene Schaerr and Ryan T. Anderson).

Second, if we lose marriage, we lose religious freedom, as well. If the U.S. Supreme Court redefines marriage and, especially, if it declares that “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are protected classes, then religious freedom protections will crumble.

If the Court rules that sexual orientation and gender identity are constitutionally protected (the legal term is “suspect class,” meaning that any laws negatively impacting persons in those categories are “suspect” and subject to the highest level of judicial scrutiny), then those who hold traditional views of marriage will be treated as equivalent to racists and vulnerable to legal sanctions.

If the Court issues an extreme “suspect class” ruling, we can expect attacks on every liberty and benefit which biblically faithful churches and believers now have under law, including tax exempt status, foster care and adoption rights, and school accreditation.

And we would see many more cases like that of Navy Chaplain Wesley Modder. This week, Chaplain Modder was relieved of his duties by his commanding officer for expressing traditional biblical views about marriage and sexual conduct. In fact, as a military chaplain, Chaplain Modder is required to uphold the doctrines required by the denomination that endorsed him (in his case, the Assemblies of God). Yet he has been disciplined for doing precisely what the Department of Defense requires! For more, see the Liberty Institute’s response to the action taken against Chaplain Modder.

All of this and more is at stake before the U.S. Supreme Court.

So please read and learn about this. Learn enough to be able to explain to others what is at stake in terms of the nature of marriage and the loss of religious freedom. Because this issue has been defined in the media by the proponents of same sex marriage, few people understand how momentous the Court’s ruling may be and how far reaching its consequences for the Church and for society.

And pray! Oral arguments are before the Court on April 28. Pray especially for Justices Kennedy and Roberts, who are seen as likely swing votes. A final ruling is expected in late June.

The Rt. Rev. John A. M. Guernsey is Dean of Provincial Affairs for the Anglican Church in North America and Bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic.

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