© 2013 ColumbiaFAVS.com, reprinted with permission.
COLUMBIA — The Supreme Court's decisions regarding two same-sex marriage cases Wednesday was met with mixed responses in Missouri. While some applauded the decision as a societal advance, others expressed disappointment and concern.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. It also let a trial court's 2010 ruling that overturned California’s Proposition 8 stand based on a technicality, saying nothing about its constitutionality. Both measures had defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
The ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act means that same-sex couples who are legally married can have the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples who are married. The decision to dismiss Proposition 8 means the case goes back to California, which could become the 13th state where gay marriage is legal.
All in favor
Like Unitarian Universalists around the country, Columbia's UU minister, Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, celebrated the Supreme Court decision.
"Our faith tells us that Love is the most powerful force at work in the world, and today that faith was affirmed as we took another step toward full marriage equality," she said.
But she doesn't see a complete victory: "There is still much work to be done in our nation and here in Missouri, where LGBTQ discrimination legally extends not only into the realm of marriage, but into the workplace as well."
Earlier this month, employee benefits for same-sex partners gained support in the University of Missouri System. The university system expanded its employee benefits to include eligible adult dependents who meet certain criteria – and that includes same-sex partners.
However, Missouri remains among the 35 states prohibiting same-sex marriage.
The United Church of Christ has long been supportive of equal rights for the LGBT community, and Rev. Steve Swope of Columbia United Church of Christ was glad to see that things had "bent a little." But he noted in an article that change sometimes happens slowly: "It took more than 250 years from the printing of the first anti-slavery pamphlet in America before meaningful civil-rights legislation was passed. And 50 years later, we as a society are still struggling with issues of race."
He added, "I believe the contemporary Church can and must be a place of welcome for LGBT persons, including those who wish to be married. I hope and pray we don’t have to wait 250 years for the fulfillment of that dream."
For Rev. Jamie Haskins, the chaplain at Westminster College in Fulton, the Supreme Court ruling brought to mind a hymn called "A Canticle of Turning." The song talks about turning toward justice and equality — and that, Haskins said, is where the country seems to be turning.
As someone who is openly gay, she's looking forward to being able to file taxes with her partner. They're also in the midst of the adoption process.
She said those who are rejoicing at this decision should rejoice loudly – and yet, at the same time, be mindful that not everyone is celebrating. She said some will feel "betrayed or hurt," or fearful.
"We need to be mindful that people will receive this in different ways," she said.
Some religious groups expressed that difference of perspective – and a dedication to keep that perspective.
"Though the ruling is not a surprise, we are saddened for our nation, even as we call our fellow Christians to faithfulness and prayer," said Rev. Bart Day of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, a national body of Lutherans headquartered in St. Louis. Day was the author of a statement that was released shortly after the court announced its decision.
"Same-sex unions are contrary to God’s will, and gay marriage is, in the eyes of God, no marriage at all," Day wrote. "As Christians, we proclaim this truth, no matter what the courts or legislatures may say. We are called not to popularity but to truth."
He emphasized the church's role to forgive and love people. Day also wrote about the importance of children having both a mother and a father, and he explained that marriage is "a picture of Christ’s love for His bride, the church." (Read the full statement here.)
The Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a similar statement. "We understand that married persons imitate the way Christ offers His body completely and permanently to the Church so that we might have life, and have it abundantly," the statement said.
The ruling "does not change the reality of marriage, nor does it change the Archdiocese of St. Louis's responsibility to defend marriage as being between one man and one woman," the statement said. "It is important to note that marriage predates both the U.S. government and Western civilization."
The statement explained the Catholic position on same-sex unions, which fits with its overall teachings on the sacrament of marriage and human sexuality. "The vocation to serve God and society through married life is a sacred union in which man and woman become one flesh," the statement said. "The Catholic Church does not condemn individuals for having same-sex attraction. She teaches that all people are called to responsibility regarding sexuality. The sexual union of a man and woman, when not obstructed by contraceptives, is the kind that is open to life even if new life is not the result." (Read the full statement here.)
Both religious bodies are also in the midst of larger campaigns about defending religious liberty. The LCMS' "Free to be Faithful" campaign, which was initially launched in response to the Affordable Care Act, offers educational resources for church members on hot-button political issues — including a "marriage toolkit."
The archdiocese is part of a national "Call to Prayer" for "life, marriage and religious liberty." It was brought on by both the Affordable Care Act and "current trends in government and culture toward redefining marriage," and interested people are offered five ways to participate.
The Missouri Baptist Conference urged people to pray for leaders, pastors and churches, and those who "embrace homosexual and lesbian behavior as normative."
“The Court’s decisions do not surprise us, but they disappoint us for at least two reasons,” John Yeats, executive director of the convention, said in a statement. “First, the branches of our federal government continue to chisel away states’ rights to carry out the will of their people. Second, and more disturbing, they reflect the fact that a growing number of Americans increasingly embrace behaviors that violate natural law and biblical truth."
Don Hinkle, director of public policy for the MBC, said Missouri Baptists should remember that marriage is about the needs of children rather than the desires of adults.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is also among those standing for traditional marriage: "Regardless of the court decision, the Church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children," a church statement said. "Notably, the court decision does not change the definition of marriage in nearly three-fourths of the states." (Read the full statement here.)
Rabbi Yossi Feintuch of Congregation Beth Shalom sees the situation as complicated. He said the Hebrew Bible does not deal directly with same-sex marriage, per se.
"It's really a complex issue because no one has been punished or sanctioned on this throughout the Hebrew Bible," he said.
What the text does talk about is "an ideal" – Feintuch cited a passage in Genesis, which talks about a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife. So a marriage between one man and one woman is the ideal.
However, even some well-loved figures, such as Solomon and David, deviate from that ideal by taking multiple wives – yet God still promised the Messiah would come through their line.
When it comes to sexual intimacy, the Torah teaches that intercourse between people of the same sex is offensive. But, Feintuch noted, there are many things that are described as such – for example, eating forbidden types of food.
Feintuch said that ultimately, "We only aspire to know what God thinks." True, there are sacred texts, but different religions interpret the same words of God in such different ways. For Feintuch, he tends to focus on the Talmud – the interpretation of the Torah.
Ultimately, he said, "The only judge of right and wrong is God."
As for himself, he tries not to use religion to politicize. Too many, he said, "try to quote God for their own political agenda, and so I try to stay clear of that."
The way Ci Cyfarth sees it, religion can be a good in shaping people, but it's not meant to be a rule to legislate by. "Faith is a matter of individual choice and conscience; law binds us all," he wrote in a recent article.
"The tenets of my faith, my church’s position and what I think marriage is as a Pagan polytheist should have zero bearing on what is legally permissible," he wrote. "What I believe to be spiritually wholesome or unwholesome does not apply to the Christian on the bus next to me, the Muslim in my office or the atheist serving coffee at my favorite cafe.
Kellie Kotraba is editor of ColumbiaFAVS.com.