This past weekend marked a landmark in the issues of gay rights and gay marriage. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg officiated the marriage of Michael Kaiser to John Roberts in Washington, D.C. on August 31, 2013, as reported in the Washington Post by Michael Livingston II on September 1, 2013 at 4:21 pm. Kaiser is the President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Roberts is an economist at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, also in D.C. This wedding is believed to be the first same-sex marriage conducted by a supreme court justice and comes a little over two months after the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act as well as California's Anti-Gay Marriage Proposition 8. These rulings opened the door for same-sex marriage, which is currently recognized in thirteen states.
Involvement of the Supreme Court and the federal government into marital issues is nothing new. In 1862, the U.S. Congress enacted the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, outlawing the practice of polygamy, which eventually forced the Church of Latter Day Saints President Joseph F. Smith to issue a manifesto in 1904 that polygamy was no longer sanctioned by the church. Only as recently as 1933 were married women granted the right to citizenship independently from their husbands. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned laws that prevented interracial marriages.
This issue of same-sex marriage first came to the U.S. Supreme Court 42 years ago in 1971 when John Baker appealed his challenge of Minnesota's ban on same-sex marriage, but the court refused to hear the case. Maryland was the first state in the country to lead the charge of defining marriage as being between a man and a woman in 1973 and by 1975 three other states had followed suit, the same year in which married women were allowed to actually have credit in their own name. By 1994, forty of the fifty states had adopted statutes to outlaw same-sex marriage. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law, which outlawed federal recognition of not only same-sex marriage but also polygamy (is that still an issue?), removing any requirement for states to recognize such marriages that may have been entered into in other states or jurisdictions. In other words, if you entered into a same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and moved to Texas, Texas was not required to recognize the marriage contract under the wording of the DOMA. (Source: Wikipedia)
The ruling on June 26 not only restricts the federal government from banning same-sex marriages, it overturns the restriction on recognizing marriages conducted in other jurisdictions. The Obama Administation announced last Thursday, August 29, that legally-married same-sex couples have the same benefits under tax laws as heterosexual couples, even if they are in a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriages.
This issues comes to closer to home in Ohio. John Arthur and James Obergefell were married in Maryland and later moved to Ohio. Mr. Arthur became ill and while under hospice care preceding his imminent death, the issue arose as to whether Mr. Arthur's marital status would be shown on his death certificate as "married." Taking the issue before Judge Timothy Black of the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio successfully resulted in the recognition of a same-sex marriage conducted in another state. On his July 22, 2013 ruling, Judge Black cited in his decision other circumstances in which Ohio has historically recognized marriages from other states that would not have been legally solemnized in Ohio, that being marriages between first cousins as well as minors. Old issues are still on the books.
Most of the heat around this debate has centered on whether same-sex marriages are biblically disallowed, in fact coming back to the issue of whether homosexuality is a sin. In fact, opponents of same-sex marriage go so far as to say that God has said it is wrong because of a few verses in the Bible, again forcing a biblical edict out of context. At issue here, then, is whether the institution of marriage is a legal contract under the purview of secular entities or a sacrament of the church under the purview of church doctrine. There are many congregations scattered across the country that are "open and affirming," taking a stand to say that homosexuality is not a sin and that same-sex couples are more than welcome. Where are such congregations in Northeast Ohio? Although the state may be required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state, is the church? If these marriages are not recognized by churches, what does this say about the church welcoming all people to the Lord's Table? Clearly, if a same-sex couple has gone to the lengths of getting married in another state in which it is recognized and still want to live in Ohio, they will not be renouncing their homosexuality and asking the church to help them "recover from their sin."
The reality is that same-sex couples will simply follow the trend of our population to stay away from the church, finding it to be increasingly irrelevant to its surrounding culture. Marriages performed by ministers in churches don't particularly last any longer than marriages performed by judges. In order to be relevant, people within the church will have to do some deep soul-searching for ways to legitimately engage a population that is finding solutions outside the church. While the U.S. Supreme Court in its official capacity has paved the way for same-sex marriages to be recognized across the country, Ruth Bader Ginsberg has independently set a standard by which same-sex couples can solemnize their vows in a jurisdiction where it is legal and then live anywhere else in the country they please, continuing to enjoy the same rights and benefits as married couples of either orientation. We may finally be well on the way for same-sex marriage to become as much of a non-issue as polygamy and allowing married women to have credit in their own name. God bless these United States.