Marriage in the Balance

By Charles Chandler, Decision Magazine   •   May 22, 2015


The Supreme Court is on the verge of making one of the most momentous decisions in its 226-year history. On trial is the definition of marriage—at least as it’s legally recognized in the United States. God’s Word is clear on the subject: It’s the sacred union of one man and one woman for life.

The court’s nine justices, however, are contemplating whether or not to defy divine order by making same-sex marriage a constitutional right, essentially assuring its legalization in all 50 states. Their decision is due in late June.

Legal and theological scholars agree that this case—Obergefell v. Hodges—is the most significant case to evangelicals since Roe v. Wade in 1973, which resulted in the legalization of abortion nationwide.

“To attack marriage attacks the very image of God,” said Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel and former dean of the School of Law at Liberty University.

“It puts the State in the position of acting as though it knows better than God and, in fact, is the creator, with the ability to redefine God’s natural created order.”

Advocates on both sides of the same sex marriage issue rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The Court is hearing oral arguments in the case Obergefell v. Hodges, which is grouped with three other cases, on the questions of whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires that states grant and/or recognize same-sex marriages.

A decision in favor of same-sex marriage would set off an unprecedented avalanche of threats on religious liberties, potentially affecting virtually every church, pastor, ministry and Christian-owned business.

“The implications are staggering,” Staver said.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee warns that it could even lead to the “criminalization of Christianity.”

“When you elevate a lifestyle to the status of a civil right, I don’t think a lot of believers fully understand or comprehend that once it’s risen to that level and our government accepts it, then anyone who disagrees with it could be at least civilly liable, but more than likely would be criminally liable,” Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate, told Decision during a recent visit to the Billy Graham Library.

“The impact is this: A pastor getting up in the pulpit and proclaiming God’s Word that marriage is the act of one man and woman joining together for life would violate the civil rights of a same-sex couple. … That would make it a criminal act.”

Proponents of same-sex marriage—backed by the Obama administration—say LGBT couples are being discriminated against and deserve marriage equality protections.

Regardless of how the case turns out, Huckabee made clear that the true definition of marriage will stand.

“Even if the Supreme Court rules that same-sex marriage is OK, it doesn’t make it OK because the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being,” he said. “The ultimate rules for marriage were not made by the Supreme Court, but by God. He is the One who gave us the blueprint.”

As the clock ticks down to the court’s decision, here are some key things to know and to be praying about.

The Case

The Supreme Court is actually ruling on four consolidated petitions at once, headlined by Ohio-based Obergefell v. Hodges. The others are from Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. All stem from lawsuits contesting same-sex prohibitions.

The court must determine if the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to these issues: 1) whether states should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; and 2) whether states should be required to recognize same-sex marriages that legally occurred in other states.

The petitioners argue that they should have those rights based on Section 1 of the 14th Amendment: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Liberty Institute, said there is no basis for ruling on behalf of the petitioners. Doing so, he said, would “create out of thin air a new so-called constitutional right.”

The attorney presenting the case for traditional marriage, John Bursch of Michigan, told justices during the April 28 oral arguments that the states, not the courts, should decide how marriage is defined. He defended upholding marriage exclusively for opposite-sex couples based on biological, procreational and child-rearing reasons.

Though most Christians view marriage—and the case—through a biblical lens, neither God nor the Bible were directly mentioned in the arguments.

If the Case Goes Well

Evangelical and conservative groups were generally encouraged by the oral arguments and emerged with new hope that the court might rule against the petitioners.

If that happened, it would be a momentum-changing victory in the fight to uphold the biblical definition of marriage and could lead to the reversal of prior rulings by federal judges that legalized same-sex marriage in 18 states.

“It … would basically take away the ability of advocates [of same-sex marriage] to go into federal court and demand for marriage to be redefined,” said Jim Campbell, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom. “That has been a primary strategy [of gay activists], but it would basically take that away for the foreseeable future.”

Religious Liberties in Limbo

It is still widely expected that the court will rule in favor of same-sex marriage, with many predicting a 5-4 vote.

Shackelford, a constitutional scholar, said such a ruling would create a constitutional crisis, pitting the new marriage equality right against the longstanding freedoms of speech and religion.

“If that happens, holding the sincerely held religious view that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman will be equal with racial discrimination, and what you cannot do legally regarding race today, you may not be able to do legally with regard to same-sex unions or sexual behavior,” Shackelford said.

The consequences would be far-reaching. Churches could face penalties, perhaps even losing their tax-exempt status, for failing to allow their facilities to be used for same-sex weddings. Pastors, bakers, photographers, florists and restaurant owners could be punished for not agreeing to provide wedding-related services.

States with adoption restrictions for same-sex couples could be forced to lift the ban. Christian colleges with housing for married students could be required to provide the same for same-sex couples. Hiring guidelines also could change substantially.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who addressed the justices on behalf of same-sex marriage, acknowledged that the tax-exempt status of non-profits opposed to gay marriage was “going to be an issue.”

Liberty Counsel’s Staver said of the threat to religious liberties: “You’re not going to be able to have your own opinion if it’s a contrary opinion because the force of the police state will require individuals not just to remain silent, but to affirm and promote same-sex unions and immoral sexual behavior.”

Shackelford said it will be difficult for churches to follow their doctrine without interference from the government.

“Almost every ministry is going to have implications,” he said. “Every Christian organization and every church is going to find themselves in a situation where they’re going to have to decide, in many cases, whether to follow man’s new law or God’s law.”

Staver said churches, ministries and individual believers must be willing to practice civil disobedience if that’s what it takes to obey God’s Word.

“We’re no longer going to just talk like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we’re going to act like Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” Staver said, referring to the German pastor who was imprisoned for resisting Hitler’s Nazi regime.

“We have to say we will not move and we will not compromise. We must say that this is a line we cannot cross, not because we want a controversy or a conflict, not because we’re being belligerent, but because it is such a stark assault on our religious freedom and our Christian beliefs that we cannot cross it. We have to render to God what belongs to God.”

The Church at a Crossroads

To date, the church as a whole has been far too passive on the subject of marriage and has not clearly defined it. The consequences have been dire.

“We literally have reached a cultural momentum 40 years into the sexual revolution that has so blinded us to the point that we’re denying observable reality,” said BreakPoint radio host and commentator John Stonestreet. “We’re denying gravity—moral gravity—when it comes to sex.”

Recent polls by ABC News, CBS News, NBC News and CNN show that between 59 and 63 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage. The CNN study showed 72 percent acceptance among 18-to-34-year-olds, also known as Millennials.

In most cases, Stonestreet said, young adults simply haven’t been taught enough in church about the biblical meaning of marriage and sexuality.

“If, in the last three or four years, this has not been a subject of teaching and discipleship for a church, I would call it a dereliction of duty,” Stonestreet said. “I use those words advisedly and carefully, but very intentionally.

“Bishop N.T. Wright said the church doesn’t always get to choose what to talk about. To not address this—to let it slide—makes no sense. I mean, what are you talking about?”

Though church marriage conferences are fairly common, they’ve tended to be narrowly focused, according to Stonestreet.

“We’ve had 20 or 30 years of seminars and classes on how to have a happy marriage, how to have a godly marriage, how to have strong finances and how to have a good sex life,” he said. “But we have had hardly any teaching on ‘This is what marriage is.’

“We’re decorating Christian morality on a culturally acquired definition of marriage. When we say ‘marriage,’ many people hear something about sexual fulfillment and personal happiness. The idea that marriage is about the foundation of civilization, that it’s the model of Christ and the church, and it actually has something to do with God’s created norms, this is not even occurring in their minds.”

Radio host, author and theologian Michael Brown has been on the front lines of battling the gay activist agenda while sharing Christ with the LGBT community for more than a decade and says a defeat in the Supreme Court case could actually help the church.

“To the extent that things go the wrong way first, this can contribute to an awakening, with people we’ve warned for many years finally waking up to reality,” Brown said.

“But it’s not going to come without real cost and real pain. We’re going to have to get down on our faces and repent for our indifference before the Lord. Out of that brokenness, God can bring renewal.”

©2015 BGEA

Read More: This Month’s Decision Magazine

Pray for the Supreme Court Justices


Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr.
Nominated by George W. Bush
Age: 65
Tenure: Jan. 31, 2006
Religious Affiliation: Roman Catholic
Education: J.D., Yale Law, 1975
Judicial Philosophy: Conservative
Odds of Pro-Marriage Vote: Likely

Justice Stephen G. Breyer
Nominated by Bill Clinton
Age: 76
Tenure: Aug. 3, 1994
Religious Affiliation: Jewish
Education: LL.B., Harvard Law, 1964
Judicial Philosophy: Liberal
Odds of Pro-Marriage Vote: Unlikely

Justice Elena Kagan
Nominated by Barack Obama
Age: 55
Tenure: Aug. 7, 2010
Religious Affiliation: Jewish
Education: J.D., Harvard Law, 1986
Judicial Philosophy: Liberal
Odds of Pro-Marriage Vote: Unlikely

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Nominated by Bill Clinton
Age: 82
Tenure: Aug. 10, 1993
Religious Affiliation: Jewish
Education: LL.B., Columbia Law, 1959
Judicial Philosophy: Liberal
Odds of Pro-Marriage Vote: Unlikely

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
Nominated by Ronald Reagan
Age: 78
Tenure: Feb. 3, 1988
Religious Affiliation: Roman Catholic
Education: J.D., Harvard Law, 1961
JUDICIAL Philosophy: Moderate
Odds of Pro-Marriage Vote: Even

Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Nominated by Barack Obama
Age: 60
Tenure: Aug. 8, 2009
Religious Affiliation: Roman Catholic
Education: J.D., Yale Law, 1979
Judicial Philosophy: Liberal
Pro-Marriage Vote: Unlikely

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
Nominated by George W. Bush
Age: 60
Tenure: Sept. 29, 2005
Religious Affiliation: Roman Catholic
Education: J.D., Harvard Law, 1979
JUDICIAL Philosophy: Moderate
Odds of Pro-Marriage Vote: Likely

Justice Antonin Scalia
Nominated by Ronald Reagan
Age: 79
Tenure: Sept. 17, 1986
Religious Affiliation: Roman Catholic
Education: J.D., Harvard Law, 1960
Judicial Philosophy: Conservative
Odds of Pro-Marriage Vote: Likely

Justice Clarence Thomas
Nominated by George H.W. Bush
Age: 66
Tenure: Oct. 15, 1991
Religious Affiliation: Roman Catholic
Education: J.D., Yale Law, 1974
Judicial Philosophy: Conservative
Odds of Pro-Marriage Vote: Likely