Yesterday we witnessed a turning point in the history of the American people. The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the same right to be married as opposite-sex couples. While some fear that extending marriage to same-sex couples will undermine marriages like my own, I believe that the opposite might be true. The very fact that gay and lesbian couples have sought such state recognition of their unions could provide a strong witness to the straight community that this institution called marriage is not dead, but is very much alive!
In my post yesterday I offered some initial thoughts here on the blog concerning the Court's decision and its impact on the church. In that post I acknowledged that my church is not all on the same page on this matter, nor is the church at large. We have lots of work to do, and as Justice Kennedy acknowledges people have strongly-held positions that are deeply rooted in their understandings of their faith, and that he doesn't wish to disparage those concerns, but that does not mean that the state can discriminate in such matters. Then, later in the day online and today in print my response found its way into an article published at the Detroit Free Press. Since those initial responses, I've had time to examine the majority opinion proffered by Justice Anthony Kennedy. It is quite a powerful read, offering a historical overview of the centrality of marriage to human society as well as its evolving nature. He brought in important precedents, such as Loving v. Virginia, which affirmed the basic right to marriage -- and ended bans on inter-racial marriage. He affirms the dignity that marriage provides to couples.
Then, there's the final paragraph of his ruling, which was affirmed by four other justices:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. [Obergefell, et al. v. Hodges].
I have emphasized to sentences in this ruling. First, Kennedy's statement that "in forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were." In making this statement, Kennedy emphasizes what I would call the covenant nature of marriage. Two people commit themselves to a life-journey in which their destinies become intertwined. Their individuality remains present, but it is to be expressed in the context the oneness that is the married state. In his word of wisdom to the Corinthians, Paul wrote to both partners (in this case opposite-gender couples) telling that they're bodies don't belong to themselves, but to the other. What is unique here is that Paul insists on the equality of the partners in this most intimate part of human experience.
The second point is key, for Kennedy acknowledges that same-sex couples do not seek to dishonor marriage or even change its meaning. He points out that they "respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves." They desire the dignity and the stability that marriage provides. Such couples recognize the importance of an institution that many have deemed old fashioned and out of step with the modern world. By seeking to enter into marriage they call on the rest of society to honor it as well. And you can call me old-fashioned, but I'm glad marriage is being celebrated as being central to human society!
As several have noted. We no longer need to speak of opposite-sex marriage and same-sex marriage. Now there is simply marriage. As to that all I can say is: Amen!