Faith Groups Urge Fidelity
The Assemblies of God is among dozens of groups urged the U.S. Supreme Court to keep state bans against same-sex marriage intact before oral arguments were heard in the case on Tuesday. The deliberations of Obergefell v. Hodges will consider a lawsuit brought by same-sex couples in four of the 13 states where such unions remain illegal.
The marital legal landscape has changed drastically in recent years. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), restricting unions to heterosexuals after the bill overwhelmingly passed in the U.S. Senate and House.
Massachusetts in 2004 became the first state to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Bans enacted by state legislatures remained in 40 states just five years ago. However, gay and lesbian activists have convinced courts to overturn laws in 37 states.
Two years ago, in a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor struck down DOMA, determining that marriage can't be restricted to heterosexual couples in states that permit same-sex marriage.
If the high court upholds the cause of the four litigants in the case about to be argued, gay and lesbian marriage would be mandatory in all 50 states.
"It is a shame that federal courts have overturned the democratically enacted marriage laws of so many states, wresting important public decisions out of the hands of the people," says Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood. "The federal courts' actions, if upheld by the Supreme Court, will negatively affect the religious liberties of traditional believers."
Along with 19 other religious organizations and denominations, the Assemblies of God in April submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court. The signatories represent more than 50 million Americans and include the National Association of Evangelicals, the Christian Legal Society, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, and Open Bible Churches. Any AG minister who performs a gay or lesbian wedding ceremony forfeits ministerial credentials.
The friend-of-the-court brief, co-authored by University of Missouri law professor Carl H. Esbeck, declares that the groups are united in the belief that traditional marriage is indispensible to the welfare of the American family and society, and that forcing jurisdictions to issue same-sex marriage licenses would generate church-state conflicts and imperil vital religious freedoms.
"Preserving religious liberty is a compelling reason not to give the Fourteenth Amendment a novel reading that would require every state to license and recognize marriage between persons of the same sex," the brief states.
Support for man-woman marriage doesn't stem from hatred or naiveté, the brief notes, but rather is rooted in centuries of theology embedded in the identities of myriad faith communities.
"And because they are based on our understanding of truths that do not change, we cannot abandon them as vestiges of what some suppose to be a benighted past," the brief proclaims. "We cannot renounce our scriptural beliefs."
The faith groups reason that God sanctions marriage between a husband and wife as the proper setting for spousal relations and for conceiving and raising children.
"Laws reserving marriage for the union of a man and a woman were the universal rule in this country until a decade ago," the brief states. "They are not tokens of ignorance and bigotry now."
Wood also is among 35 religious leaders to sign "The Defense of Marriage and the Right of Religious Freedom: Reaffirming a Shard Witness" released last week. The open letter is backed by a broad array of faith group representatives.
The document reaffirms a commitment to defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
"Marriage as the union of a man and a woman is the only institution that encourages and safeguards the connection between children and their mother and father," the letter says. "It is in the best interests of the state to encourage and uphold the family founded on marriage and to afford the union of husband and wife unique legal protection and reinforcement."
For many religious organizations and people who hold spiritual values, accepting a redefinition of marriage would necessitate a denial of their religious beliefs and moral convictions, the letter says.
"Both democratic legitimacy and constitutional integrity demand that the Court overturn the decisions of those federal courts that have invented a constitutional right to same-sex marriage," says Wood, who also signed an ecumenical 2010 Open Letter on Marriage and the 2012 Open Letter on Marriage and Religious Freedom.
"If there was ever a time for the Church to pray fervently and speak up firmly for marriage, the family, and our freedom, that time is now," says John T. Maempa, director of the office.
"Human history in every culture has defined marriage as the enduring and intimate relationship of a man and a woman," says NAE President Leith Anderson. "This definition has established the primary expression of a family. It is worthy of protection."
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