June 26, 2013
In two dramatic decisions this week, the Supreme Court declared laws unconstitutional. By a 5-4 majority, the Court set aside section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And by an identical margin, though with only one vote changing sides, it voided DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as only a union between one man and one woman.
There is sadness and anger on the political left about the first, and sadness and anger on the political right about the second.
Ironically, the two decisions together push “we the people” to the forefront. What are we going to do now?
In matters of voting rights, we ordinary citizens cannot turn our attention away from questions of whether African-Americans are being denied equal voting rights. Since 1965, but no more, we have been able to leave worrying about that question to the federal Department of Justice and the courts.
Is racial discrimination largely a problem we have put behind us, as five justices led by Chief Justice Roberts declared? Or is racial discrimination still a present, ugly reality as the other four, led by Justice Ginsberg, thundered back? We can’t look to them now to settle that question. They have said all they can. It is up to us. And it is worth our remembering that it has always been up to us, no matter how much or how little attention we give to matters of such gravity.
If we believe that racial discrimination is a huge and continuing ugly reality, then we must feel called to see that it is combatted.
In matters of marriage, there remain questions to be answered about whether homosexuals can marry in many states. Thirteen now have approved gay marriage, and 37 have not. But what God wills with regard to marriage (a much larger question) was in no way illuminated by the Supreme Court—and could not be.
The legal and political question has been about whether gays and lesbians can be denied rights that are accorded to heterosexual couples. For religiously minded people, however, the much more important question is what God wills with regard to marriage. Marriages through civil procedures may now be available to same-sex couples, but the DOMA decision says nothing about what churches will or should do. Which marriages should they celebrate? That, too, is up to us.
The question for those of us who are religiously minded is not at all about equal rights. Rather, the question is whether homosexuality is a sin. If it is a sin, then churches should not bless same sex unions. A few religious denominations have come to say it isn’t; a number of others say it certainly is. And by far the largest number are deeply divided on the question. So again, it is up to us.
It is up to us to discern together what is God’s will in this matter. Shall we be led by Jesus’s call to love one another? Or shall we take the five snippets as telling us all that God has to say in the matter?
So Friends, what are we to do in these matters? What is the witness to which God calls us?