Friday, June 26, 2015

The Supreme Court, same-sex marriage, and the Church

Below is the text of an email I sent to the people of my church this morning. 

As many of you know by now, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 this morning that states may not deny marriage licenses to persons on the basis of their sex. That is to say, the Court ruled that same-sex couples as well as heterosexual must be issued  such a license if they request. The Court did not, as far as I have read yet, make any reference or ruling as to whether states may withhold licenses from multiple-partner requests (polygamous arrangements). However, the majority opinion consistently uses the word "couples" in its wording. The full text of the ruling is here:

The Book of Discipline of the UMC is the "church law" for the denomination. It is updated and republished every four years, after the General Conference of the UMC has made changes, if any. The GC will meet next year, so the current edition of the BOD is the 2012 edition. Here is what the BOD says relevant to the Court's ruling today.

On weddings generally: The decision to perform a wedding ceremony is the right and responsibility of the pastor.

Same-sex unions:
  1. Ceremonies of homosexual weddings or ceremonies of that nature by any other name may not be performed by UM pastors, nor may such occasions take place on UM property. 
  2. UM Pastors who do conduct such ceremonies are subject to disciplinary action that may include revocation of ordination (and hence unemployment). 
There are a number of other references in the BOD to homosexuality, however, these are the relevant parts to the Court's ruling today. Nothing in the Court's ruling affects the denomination's position.

Therefore, having rendered vows to uphold the standards of the Church, and in accordance with my own Christian convictions, I will continue to follow the rules of the Book of Discipline of the UMC and will not perform, either on or off the campus, same-sex union ceremonies by whatever name.

I would be surprised if this position is not controversial, or even wrong, to some people of our church. Unfortunately, email is a "flat" medium and not very suitable for this kind of discussion so I am not going to elaborate further here. I am open to holding a discussion session, or even a series of them, if I am advised it would be helpful.

As in all things, let us be in prayer for our Church and for the future of our nations and its leaders, that the wisdom of God and the grace of our Lord Christ envelope us completely in all we say and do.

Grace and peace.

Don Sensing

Update (to blog post only): Law Prof. Ilya Somin says that the ruling leaves the door fully open for challenges to laws forbidding polygamy:
Kennedy’s analysis of the Due Process Clause issue also tries to cabin the scope of his reasoning by emphasizing that the fundamental right to marriage is limited to a “two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals.” This appears to foreclose the possibility that the right to marriage includes polygamous unions. But the basis for this limitation is not clearly explained. If fundamental rights are not “defined by who exercised them in the past,” then why should they be defined by the number of people involved in the union in question?
And Chief Justice Roberts says this explicitly in his dissent:
Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective “two” in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one. It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.

When asked about a plural marital union at oral argument, petitioners asserted that a State “doesn’t have such an institution.” But that is exactly the point: the States at issue here do not have an institution of same-sex marriage, either.
Trust me: multiple-spouse marriage is on the way, bet on it. One man and three women, three men, two men and one woman, name it. And just wait until some people discover the tax-dodge scams they can pull with no-rules marriage and we'll see 20, 30 or more people marrying one another.