By Bob Allen
Religious opposition to same-sex marriage isn’t anti-gay but rather based on religious beliefs and practical experience that children do best when they grow up in a stable home environment with both a mother and a father, faith groups including the Southern Baptist Convention argued in a legal brief defending a Missouri law recognizing only marriages between a woman and a man as legal.
The SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission joined the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in a Feb. 23 filing asking the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s decision finding the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
“In this brief, we are standing together for a truth as old as human civilization itself,” Russell Moore, Southern Baptists’ top spokesman for moral, ethical and religious-liberty concerns, said in a press release. “The state did not create the family, and cannot recreate it. We appeal to the court to recognize and to stay within the limits of its authority.”
Moore said marriage “is about more than registering relationships at a courthouse.”
“Marriage is about the common good and flourishing of society,” he said. “And, as a Christian, I believe with Jesus and the apostles that marriage points beyond creation to the gospel union of Christ and his church.”
U.S. District Court Judge Ortrie D. Smith in Kansas City ruled Nov. 7 that both a 1996 statute and voter-approved amendment to the state constitution in 2004 violate the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which entitles all citizens to due process and equal protection under the law.
After the ruling, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed an appeal of the decision to the 8th Circuit. The appeals court announced Feb. 3 it was combining the appeal with other gay-marriage cases from Arkansas and South Dakota, with oral arguments set during the week of May 11-15 in Omaha, Neb.
While the district court did not address allegations in the lawsuit that Missouri’s same-sex marriage ban is rooted in “animus” against homosexuals, the faith groups said in their brief they anticipate the argument will resurface during the appeals process.
The faith groups said the accusation they are motivated by “anti-gay animus” is “false and offensive” and intended to “suppress rational dialogue and civil conversation” and “to win by insult and intimidation rather than by persuasion, experience and fact.”
While different, they say, their theological perspectives agree on a critical point — “that marriage between a man and a woman is vital to the welfare of children, families and society.”
“Our practical experience in this area is unequaled,” the brief contends. “In millions of ministry settings each day we see the benefits that married mother-father parenting brings to children. And we deal daily with the devastating effects of out-of-wedlock births, failed marriages and the general decline of the marriage institution.”
The faith groups all attach “spiritual significance,” to the institution of marriage, the brief says.
“Our respective religious doctrines hold that marriage between a man and a woman is sanctioned by God as the right and best setting for conceiving, bearing and raising children,” they said. “We believe that children, families, society and our nation thrive best when husband-wife marriage is sustained and strengthened as a cherished, primary social institution. The lives of millions of Americans are ordered around the family and derive meaning and stability from that institution. We make no apologies for these sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The lawsuit claims that barring same-sex couples from marrying “denies loving, committed, same-sex couples the dignity and status that only marriage can confer on their relationships and their families.”
It also deprives LGBT couples rights and privileges available to married couples such as visiting a spouse in a nursing home, making medical decisions if a spouse is incapacitated and obtaining a death certificate if a spouse dies. If one of them is killed, the surviving gay spouse cannot sue for a partner’s wrongful death, because they are not legally married.
Surviving different-sex spouses are entitled to continued coverage under their spouse’s health, dental, vision or prescription-drug insurance plans. Same-sex spouses are not, the lawsuit alleges, “for no other reasons than their sexual orientation and their sex.”
The suit says same-sex couples and their children “are stigmatized and relegated to a second-class status” by being barred from the right to wed. “The exclusion tells same-sex couples, and all the world, that their relationships are unworthy of recognition.”
The lawsuit claims that refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples “does not rationally further any legitimate government interest” but instead “serves only to disparage and injure same-sex couples and their families.”
The brief by the religious organizations insists their position on marriage is separate from their views on the morality of homosexuality.
Defining marriage as gender-neutral, they say, changes its message and function to celebrating adult relationships rather than protecting children.
“Sober reflection suggests that transforming marriage into a relationship primarily directed at affirming the life choices of adults will deepen the devastating effects America has suffered over the last half-century with the devaluing of marriage as a child-centered institution,” the brief argues.