Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Christian Case for Same-Sex Marriage

In June of 1958, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were married in Washington D.C. Upon their return to Virginia to take up residence there, they were promptly arrested, convicted of a felony, and sentenced to a year in jail. What great crime had Mildred and Richard committed that would bring the force of the law down on them so swiftly and severely? Mildred was black and Richard was white.

The trial judge suspended the sentence as long as the couple promised to leave the state and not to return for a minimum of 25 years. At the sentencing of the couple, the judge gave his rationale for upholding Virginia’s statutes forbidding interracial marriage:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix. (Loving v. Virginia, U.S. Supreme Court, 1967)

Eight years later, when the United States Supreme Court finally took up Mildred and Richard’s case, the justices did not quite agree with the remarkable theology of the Virginia judge. In fact, Chief Justice Warren, in stating the Court’s rationale for dismantling interracial marriage bans across the country, made this sweeping statement about marriage:

Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of [humanity],’ fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is sure to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State. (Loving v. Virginia)

The fact that the North Carolina General Assembly is on the precipice of voting to change our state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage shows how persistent bigotry is when it comes to denying marital rights to minority groups. In the previous generation it was racial minorities being discriminated against when it came to the right to marry. In this generation LGBTQ citizens are the targets of the bigotry. In both generations the underlying cause of the discrimination is a perverted form of religion.

The Church has provided the cover for our leaders to deny gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens the right to marry whomever they choose. Laws are not created in vacuums of justice untouched by the cultural values around them. The law is just as impressionable as other institutions in our society. And when the dominant religious power in our country, the Christian Church, states that gay citizens are deviant and must not be allowed to marry, the law tends to be influenced by such majoritarian thinking.

Which is why I believe it is critical for the Church to repent and begin to understand how its own teachings and traditions provide a natural rationale to support same-sex marriage. In Luke 4 Jesus begins his public ministry by returning to his hometown, entering into the synagogue, and making something of a mission statement:

The Spirit of God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of God’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

For his mission statement Jesus reaches for the language of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2). He is calling to mind the period in Jewish history when the exile had rendered the people powerless. Like the prophet centuries before him, Jesus is saying that one of the most fundamental religious tasks is to stand with those who have been excluded and marginalized. Those with no power because of their social status, their physical status, or because of the way they were born are the focus of Jesus’ ministry from day one. He is determined to stand with them, to name them beloved of God, and to dedicate his life to seeing them empowered.

Every generation of the Church must take up Jesus’ mission statement and find those places where people without power are being abused and marginalized. In previous generations the struggle was for women and people of color. In our generation the struggle is to support our LGBTQ brothers and sisters as they seek full equality. Repenting from its bigotry and supporting same-sex marriage would be an excellent place for the Church to start.


About Me

former pastor who is now a pastoral counselor and consultant (mckinneycounseling.org); married with two teenagers; progressive in my politics and theology