New Gay Marriage Rules Don't Affect Individual Churches

New Gay Marriage Rules Don't Affect Individual Churches

The Sacramento Bee recently published a long discussion on the “hopes” that gays have that their churches will sanction gay wedding ceremonies. It is a piece filled with all sorts of arguments in favor of churches “changing” on the issue.

The Bee led its piece with the story of a same-sex couple being delighted that their synagogue, California’s Congregation B’nai Israel, helped them celebrate their marriage ceremony. The article goes on to note gravely that not all gay couples will be so nicely accommodated because “options vary widely from denomination to denomination across the religious spectrum.”

The paper points out that the Supreme Court has weighed in on some areas of the question on gay marriage and some things have changed across the country as a result. But one thing that the Court did not alter is the decision of individual churches on whether or not to allow gay marriage ceremonies within their walls.

Gay marriage ceremonies in churches are neither permitted by federal law, nor banned by it. It is up to the church to make such decisions on its own.

Acceptance of gay marriage ceremonies varies from denomination to denomination, even from church to church within denominations, and the paper taps into the debate that is raging on whether or not churches should “modernize” and jettison beliefs some held for a millennia or more.

It is generally assumed currently that the U.S. Constitution protects churches that wish to refuse to perform gay marriage ceremonies because the marriage ceremony is not something governed by law. Marriage itself is a civil institution, of course, but no type of religious ceremony veers into governmental purview.

Douglas NeJaime, a University of California, Irvine law professor and expert on gender law issues, said to the paper that churches are “constitutionally protected. No religious bodies will be asked by the state to perform marriages for same-sex couples,” he said.

But many fear the assumed protections that churches have under the Constitution aren’t as axiomatic as most Americans assume. The Obama administration has already violated religious freedoms numerous times with Obamacare and many small businesses have come under fire for attempting to deny services to gay marriages based on business owners’ religious convictions. Worse, states have increasingly begun to take these people to court.

For good reason, then, traditionalists fear this continued pressure both from society at large and government in particular.

Some gay activists try to use history to their advantage in this debate saying that in the past some religions used the Bible to say that men and women of different races should not marry. The Bee promotes this point.

“The Bible until recently was used to say that marriage between the races was wrong. This is a very similar argument, I think. Marriage has been a very evolving target, and this is one more evolution in the cycle,” said the Rev. Brian Baker, dean of Sacramento’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral to the paper.

But advocates of traditional religious views say that marriage between a man and a woman were never opposed by the Bible–despite its misuse by racists in the past–while couplings between people of the same sex are clearly prohibited and always have been.