The following is the fourth installment of the “Out of the Closet and Into the Pews” series. The series features members of The Reformation Project’s Inaugural Conference -a leadership conference for 50 straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians who are committed to reform.
The Court’s Call for a New Evangelization
By Shane Hunt (BEA guest writer)
In case you happen to have missed it, the Supreme Court did something rather remarkable last Wednesday. Ten years to the day after Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Court striking down anti-sodomy laws as unconstitutional, he took up his pen again in United States v. Windsor and struck down section three of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The section stated that in all federal laws, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person.” More details are here, but the gist is that Justice Kennedy and the liberal wing of the Court found that “no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” thus violating the 5th Amendment. This ruling is clearly a victory for LGBTQ rights, but the Court also challenges Christians to completely rethink how they relate with non-Christians.
One of the purposes of the that the Court found illegitimate is the House Report’s explanation that the bill expresses “both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.” The Court uses this language to buttress its claim that DOMA’s “principal purpose” and “essence” is to “impose inequality.” The Court seems to suggest that congressional legislation based on nothing more than moral sentiment is not only unconstitutional, but downright bigoted. The dissents picked up on this. Justice Scalia, protested that the decision “formally declar[es] anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency.” The Chief Justice scolds the majority for “tar[ring] the political branches with the brush of bigotry.” After the ruling, conservative Professor Eric Posner asked, “Isn’t it possible to oppose same-sex marriage without hating gay people?”
The Court’s answer is apparently no, if your objections are based solely on moral disapproval. This ruling is significant for many Christians in the sense that most Christians’ objections to same-sex marriage are religious or moral in nature. I was in North Carolina during the 2012 marriage amendment debate, and the rhetoric boiled down to “I know what marriage is because the Bible tells me so.”
But Windsor may be part of a trend not confined to civil marriage. In Lawrence v. Texas, the Court found that “the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice.” If the church’s theological and moral arguments are insufficient to support laws, its political influence is reduced to that of an average citizen—based only on the strength of its non-religious reasoning.
GK Chesterton once wrote that one reason he was Catholic was that, “It is the only large attempt to change the world from the inside; working through wills and not laws.” If the church must rely upon a donation of Constantine’s sword to survive, then “those who live by the sword will perish by the sword.” Fortunately, we don’t need to rely upon the force of the U.S. Code to make sure God’s will is followed. Paul wrote that, “the demands of the law are written in their hearts,” even for the nonreligious.
However, instead of using the truth to set each other free, we rely on Caesar. Seeing us using the power of the state as a crutch, God has used the Court in Windsor to call American Christians to a new evangelization. As he is so apt to do, he “chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.” He used an old woman named Edie to admonish us for our dependence on Caesar to argue for us with sword rather than spirit. He used an old woman named Edie to ask us if we really believed that the divine law would crumble without the constant support of human law. He used an old woman named Edie to tell us to rise, pick up our mats, and walk.
I firmly believe that God’s Word can set the world on fire. The question that faces the church is do we accept the challenge and set hearts ablaze as Jesus did, or must we rely on Caesar to give to God what is His?
Shane Hunt is a student at Harvard Law School. He is co-president of Harvard Law’s LGBT-affinity group, Lambda, as well as a member of the Catholic Law Student Association. He will be joining the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinic in the Fall. Legally, he is especially interested in criminal law, church-state relations, and LGBT-Catholic relations.