State resistance to marriage ruling dissipates

by David Roach, posted Monday, June 29, 2015 (3 years ago)

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Three days after the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of gay marriage nationwide, all 50 states have begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and instances of publicized resistance by government officials seem confined largely to the South.

Some gay marriage proponents have advocated building on the court's ruling by legalizing polygamous marriages and abolishing tax exemptions for religious institutions.

Meanwhile, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd and Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE) President Neal Davidson both have issued statements condemning the ruling and calling Christians to be salt and light amid a culture that increasingly dismisses biblical sexual ethics.

Resistance in the South

Louisiana was believed to be the last state to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with the New Orleans-area Jefferson Parrish issuing the first one June 29, CBS News reported.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who announced his candidacy for president last week, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" June 28 that Louisiana would comply with the Supreme Court's decision after a lower court ruled on a gay marriage case specific to the state. Jindal estimated that would occur in "a matter of days."

"We don't have a choice but to comply," Jindal said, "even though I think this decision was the wrong one."

The Louisiana Clerks of the Court Association had advised its members to wait 25 days before issuing licenses to gay couples, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. A press release from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said nothing in the Supreme Court decision indicated it was effective immediately.

In Alabama, probate judges in Geneva and Pike counties both said they would discontinue altogether the practice of granting marriage licenses rather than issue them to same-sex couples, AL.com reported. Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen has not issued a marriage license since February, when a federal judge legalized gay marriage across Alabama.

Both dissenting probate judges say state law does not require them to issue marriage licenses. But Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va., told AL.com that courts likely will forbid counties from getting out of the marriage business entirely.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a Southern Baptist, criticized the Supreme Court ruling in a message at Kimberly Church of God in Kimberly, Ala., June 28. "Just who do [the justices] think they are when one person can reverse 200-and-something years of precedent in our country and thousands of years of precedent in western civilization," Moore said according to the Associated Press.

Texas officials said they would abide by the Supreme Court ruling but defend the right of state employees to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on religious objections.

Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in a nonbinding legal opinion that any state worker who declines to issue a marriage license could face litigation or a fine. But he said "numerous lawyers" are prepared to defend dissenting public officials free of charge, AP reported.

Gov. Greg Abbott said June 26, "Despite the Supreme Court's ruling, Texans' fundamental right to religious liberty remains intact."

In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant said the high court "usurped the right to self-governance" and mandated marriage standards "out of step with the majority of Mississippians," the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported. Bryant promised to do all he can to protect religious liberty in Mississippi.

After three same-sex weddings June 26, Attorney General Jim Hood said Mississippi, like Louisiana, would wait to issue additional marriage licenses to gay couples until a federal appeals court gave the go-ahead, the Los Angeles Times reported. But Hood sent a letter to county circuit clerks June 29 stating they could issue licenses, and at least two same-sex couples were married before noon in Jackson, CBS News reported.

Polygamy and tax exemptions

The same day the Supreme Court issued its ruling, an article posted at Politico.com argued that "the most natural advance next for marriage lies in legalized polygamy."

The article, written by Fredrik deBoer, cited the dissent of Chief Justice John Roberts, which stated, "It is striking how much of the majority's reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage."

DeBoer argued, "Now that we've defined that love and devotion and family isn't driven by gender alone, why should it be limited to just two individuals?"

Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted the Politico article with the comment, "Well, that escalated quickly."

Abolishing religious tax exemptions was the subject of a TIME editorial. Mark Oppenheimer, a biweekly columnist for the New York Times, argued in TIME, "The Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage makes it clearer than ever that the government shouldn't be subsidizing religion and non-profits."

Christian groups could lose tax-exempt status if they "dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality," Oppenheimer wrote, noting that taxpayers should not have to fund nonprofit organizations they find offensive. The best solution to the "pointless, incoherent agglomeration of nonsensical loopholes" in the tax code is to do away with tax-exempt status for most nonprofits, including churches.

'A moment of opportunity'

Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, decried the Supreme Court's decision as "astounding" and an "overreach."

"To our nation's founders it would be unimaginable that morality in our nation should be determined by nine lawyers located in Washington D.C.," Floyd wrote in a Baptist Press column. "Nor would they have imagined that marriage would ever be anything other than a covenant relationship between a man and a woman for a lifetime."

Floyd criticized President Obama for lauding the courage of Jim Obergefell, a plaintiff at the heart of the gay marriage cases. It was particularly egregious that Obama ended his phone conversation with Obergefell by saying, "God bless you," Floyd wrote.

"How does one celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage from the White House and within a short amount of time make a congratulatory phone call closing with the words, 'God bless you'?" Floyd wrote. "Does God bless a same-sex union or marriage ceremony?"

While noting he respects and prays for Obama, Floyd also criticized the decision to illuminate the White House with rainbow colors June 26 to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling. Floyd promised to publish another column June 27 enumerating five actions evangelicals must take moving forward.

BCNE President Davidson, pastor of Hope Chapel in Sterling, Mass., urged New England Baptists not to be "dismayed or discouraged" and seize the gay marriage ruling as a "moment of opportunity."

"It is an opportunity for the church in America to recognize that our country is not a Christian country and to see it for what it truly is, a mission field," Davidson wrote in a statement. "Recognizing this will open the door for the church to realize it cannot keep doing church as usual."

Davidson continued, "We will never reach a dying world if we are not different from it. It is a moment of opportunity for we who are the church to see that we cannot keep praying the same way, serving the same way, giving the same way, worshipping the same way, maturing in Christ the same way, and so forth, and expect to reach our nation with the life-changing Gospel of Christ."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.
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