The Supreme Court knew that a furor would surround its decisions about the definition of marriage, and it is reasonable to assume that a desire to avoid being engulfed in that furor led the court to delay releasing those decisions as long as possible. There has been a great deal of furor already, and Justice Kennedy was even sucked into some of that excitement when California chose to jump the gun on the implementation of the Prop 8 decision.
The Supreme Court’s choice of cases that dealt with the subject of the definition of marriage was obviously intended to settle some things in the nationwide debate on the subject. One thing the Supreme Court did not say was that the federal government would require all states to authorize and recognize homosexual unions as “marriages.” The Prop 8 decision affected the marriage definition only in California, and the DOMA decision only required the federal government to recognize, for purposes of benefits administration, homosexual marriages authorized by any state.
Troubling as these decisions are, an announcement by the President soon after the court decision was released is even more troubling. The headline read “Obama promises not to force churches to perform gay marriages.” The President said. “How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision — which applies only to civil marriages — changes that.” This statement is troubling, because the Constitution specifically protects churches in their right to exercise the teachings of their faith. The president has no constitutional power to interfere with churches on the subject of marriage or any other teaching. Obama’s statement is unnecessary, unless he himself believes it is necessary. He could only believe it is necessary if he also believes he has the power and the right to tell churches that they must perform gay “marriages.”
Christians who read the news attentively will see immediately the broad implications of the statement.
The most contentious issue between Christians and the federal government in recent months has been the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. In the lawsuits centered on this mandate, the federal government has said that individuals lose their First Amendment right to free exercise of their religion the minute they engage in commerce, whether as a sole owner or in a corporation. The only conscience exemption allowed is for the business operations of a house of worship. That definition is almost certainly the definition the president had in mind when he made his announcement about weddings.
However, the fact that he feels he must say such a thing makes it clear that he can conceive of such an order. What’s more, the statement makes it clear that he thinks he has the authority to make such an order and that he is showing admirable restraint by not issuing it.
What happens when he changes his mind? President Obama has changed his mind on any number of things during his presidency. His views are always evolving. What happens when he decides that he cannot tolerate the unwillingness of some churches to consecrate gay marriages? What happens when the LGBT activists wear down his reluctance to exercise what he clearly believes is his rightful power to compel churches to consecrate gay “marriages?”
The question of authority has been a very real question with this president. The Constitution as written does not empower the president to do use executive orders to accomplish objectives that the Congress refused to enact as law, yet this president does it almost every day. It is much more difficult to claim and defend the protection of the First Amendment against a government which has abandoned all pretense of operating according to the Constitution. The obvious first act is to pray for the protection of all religions from the federal juggernaut. However, Christians need to put feet on these prayers and stay alert to the news. They must let their elected officials, and especially their Representatives and Senators, know that religious liberty must be preserved. Advocacy for religious liberty must include not only the right of churches to consecrate weddings according to their teachings, but also the right of every individual to refuse to participate in weddings that violate their religious convictions.
It isn’t a mystical experience to write a letter to your Congressman, but it is an act of Christian discipleship. If this government were a dictatorship, there would be nobody to whom citizens could appeal for protection from the dictator. Until such time as the government completely abandons the façade of a republic, we must assume that some constitutional rights and powers are still vested in the people. Pray. Write. Live faithful to the truth. Reject autocratic assumption of power outside the boundaries of the Constitution. Pray like your church depended on it. It does.