What’s ahead for Americans who believe in traditional marriage?

THE RELIGION GUY ASKS:

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s mandate to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, what’s ahead for religious believers in traditional man-and-woman marriage alone? (The Guy poses this timely topic now in place of the usual question posted by an online reader.)

THE ANSWER:

The historic June 26 legalization, by a one-vote majority of a deeply divided Supreme Court, demonstrates with stark clarity religion’s declining influence and stature in American culture.

The one aspect is obvious. Traditional marriage belief is firmly taught, with no immediate prospect of change, by the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, most other evangelical Protestants, many “historically black” Protestant churches, conservatives within “mainline” Protestant denominations, Eastern Orthodoxy, Latter-day Saints, Orthodox Judaism, Islam and others. A massive 2014 Pew Research survey indicates those groups encompass the majority of Americans, something like 140 million adults.

Of course, not all parishioners agree with official doctrine or practice the teachings of their faith. In a May poll by Pew, the 57 percent of all Americans supporting gay and lesbian marriages tracked closely with the 56 percent among those identifying as Catholic. That contrasted with only 41 percent of black Americans and 27 percent in the nation’s biggest religious bloc, white evangelicals.

The less-noticed aspect is the weakness of religions on the triumphant side, which generally followed the LGBT movement rather than exercising decisive leadership, unlike past church crusades that helped win independence from Britain, abolition of slavery, labor rights, child welfare, social safety nets, women’s vote, alcohol prohibition, civil rights laws or withdrawal from Vietnam.

The three major faith groups prominent in pressing change in civil law did so rather recently, the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1996, Reform Judaism in 1997, and the United Church of Christ in 2005. Even “mainline” denominations that endorse clergy with gay partners have been hesitant in redefining religious marriage. The Presbyterian Church (USA) did so just this year. The Episcopal Church authorized same-sex weddings days after the Court’s ruling.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in American remains ambivalent. (The United Methodist Church, though also “mainline,” has defeated liberal bids for 43 years; the next showdown occurs in May, 2016).

The Supreme Court’s ruling stirred important secular debates about discerning new rights in a “living Constitution” versus the “original intent” of the Constitution’s literal text, and whether in a democracy federal judges or legislators and voters should determine social policies. But the overriding question now becomes how much the marriage equality right the 2015 Court found implicit in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment will overrule the explicit First Amendment right  to “free exercise” of religion guaranteed since 1791.

Continue reading "What’s ahead for Americans who believe in traditional marriage?" by Richard Ostling.

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