I thought a lot about what to write in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage and its proximity to our national Independence Day holiday and then read what Harold Jackson of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote. I think he says it all.
Ruling shouldn’t change right to religious freedom
HAROLD JACKSON @harjerjac
Were he alive today, I believe my younger brother who lived in San Francisco would have married his longtime partner, with whom he had lived for several years, long before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage nationally.
Being a Christian, as was my brother, I would not have recognized that union as a Bible-blessed marriage sanctioned by Scripture. But as an American who believes this nation was founded on the promises of freedom in the Constitution, I would have accepted the right of him and his partner to be a committed couple with all the legal guarantees granted to heterosexual spouses. I would welcome them in my home, invite them to my church, and love them as my kin.
I can’t say that I have always felt that way. My brother and I grew up in a different time, when most homosexuals who wanted to succeed in life kept that part of themselves hidden. I was in college before I found out that one of my favorite Sunday school teachers when I was a child was gay. Apparently, so long as he didn’t do anything that might be construed as attracting undue attention, he was accepted just like any other upstanding member of the congregation. In retrospect now, I think of how tortured his life must have been in trying to always present an image that wasn’t really true.
That was before gay men and women came out of the closet. Today, gay couples hardly get a second glance as they stroll down streets hand in hand, embrace in movie theaters, and, depending on the church, pray together in pews. Many are also getting married in churches that believe biblical references to homosexuality as sin are either misinterpreted or somehow no longer apply. God will make the ultimate ruling on that. In the meantime, churches that do not believe they should be required to marry gays are wondering if the Supreme Court decision will force them to do just that. It shouldn’t.
Religious freedom was one of the most important reasons, if not the most important reason, that so many colonists left Europe to establish a new home in America. It’s why the very First Amendment to the Constitution both forbids the establishment of a state religion and guarantees the free exercise of religious practices. That means the same Constitution that the Supreme Court cited to remove all prohibitions of gay marriage can be cited by churches, synagogues, temples, and other religious institutions that want to continue to place restrictions on whom they will marry.
I don’t know if my brother would have wanted a church wedding. He died in 1996 of AIDS, having kept his illness secret for years. To admit the disease would have required him to admit other secrets that, 20 years ago, he didn’t feel he could. I will always be sorry about that.
I’m glad that gay couples today no longer have to live secret lives. The Supreme Court says they also can marry. But it is important that the court did not invalidate religious objections to gay marriage. That keeps the constitutional separation of church and state intact, which, as I understand it, is also what the Bible prescribes. The Good Book also tells us to love everyone as we love ourselves, and to leave the final judgment of each of us up to God.
Harold Jackson is editorial page editor for The Inquirer. firstname.lastname@example.org
May we all celebrate Independence Day together!