Church State Council Supports the California Marriage Amendment
In November, Californians will vote on a ballot initiative intended to
amend the state constitution to provide that only marriage between a
man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. The Church State
Council board supports this initiative, known as the Marriage
Amendment, and will appear as Proposition 8. The Church State Council,
a ministry of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists,
is the oldest public policy organization in the southwestern United
States devoted exclusively to issues of liberty of conscience and
religion, and the separation of church and state.
The Church State Council’s support for the Marriage Amendment is predicated on two primary factors: 1) the importance of marriage to the social fabric of our nation; and 2) the repercussions of gay marriage is the most serious threat to religious freedom in the nation today.
We are not asking the state to enforce a religious doctrine, nor has the Council opposed the legal rights of the gay community to have civil unions to obtain legal benefits. Although a wide spectrum of religious and secular organizations uphold marriage for a variety of social, moral or religious reasons, the state upholds marriage as a legal institution without requiring an acknowledgment of God or religion, as such. By upholding marriage and civil unions separately, the state preserves both gay rights and religious freedom in a balance.
By contrast, the California Supreme Court’s decision in May in favor of gay marriage created a legal imbalance in favor of gay rights. This legal imbalance devalues liberty of conscience and religion, and allows gay rights to become a weapon to attack the church. Among current legal challenges to religious freedom posed by gay rights are these:
- California Lutheran High School is being sued for discrimination for expelling two lesbian students. The lawsuit seeks to compel the school to violate its religious beliefs regarding sexual morality, by forcing it to change its policies and practices, or close down.
- Catholic Charities in Massachusetts was forced to close down its adoption agencies for its refusal to place children with same-sex couples. The city of Boston and its children lost the services that accounted for some 75 per cent of all adoptions because it refused to accommodate Catholic Charities’ religious convictions and practices.
- In New York, Yeshiva University, an Orthodox Jewish school, was required to open up its married student housing facilities to same sex couples.
- In Berkeley and San Diego, scouting groups have been denied the use of free public facilities they historically enjoyed, for refusing to agree to permit gay men to serve as scout leaders.
- Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist facility in New Jersey, has lost a discrimination case filed by a same sex couple that was denied permission to use the chapel for a civil union ceremony. It is on appeal. In a related case, the Association has been stripped of its exemption from real property taxes.
- A family planning clinic and its Christian doctors in California have been sued by a lesbian couple for discrimination, and the lower courts have ruled that they cannot even raise any religious freedom defense. The case is on appeal to the California Supreme Court, where the Church State Council filed a brief.
- The New Mexico Human Rights Commission awarded $6,600 in legal fees to a same sex couple, when a Christian wedding photographer refused to film their commitment ceremony because it violated her religious beliefs.
Marriage is in the process of undergoing a radical transformation in
our society. The new definition of marriage has no reference to gender,
or to the importance of marriage for the raising of children and the
preservation of society. Instead, marriage is being reoriented around
personal choice, and emotional and sexual fulfillment. It is a social
experiment on the most ancient and venerated of human institutions, a
tradition that transcends culture, religion and history. In short,
marriage is the most universal of human institutions. We tinker with it
at our peril.
Seventh-day Adventists have an important contribution to make to the public debate about marriage. To begin with, there is much confusion about the separation of church and state, and whether religious people can legitimately advocate for moral laws. The separation of church and state, rightly understood, means that the state should not legislate about religious obligations, such as worship, prayer, and the like – religious obligations that one owes to the Lord, rather than to the state. These are roughly described by the first four commandments.
However, all agree that the state can legislate about civil matters, such as adultery, theft, murder and also marriage. The question is not whether the state will legislate a moral view of marriage, but whose morality will become law? While marriage is a religious sacrament or institution in some religions, the universality of marriage across cultural and religious boundaries clearly supports the view that preserving the historic definition of marriage is not about legislating religion in conflict with constitutional values.
Moreover, just as Adventists built on our understanding of the precious nature of every human being to make the civil argument for the abolition of slavery, today we take our understanding of the precious nature of marriage to make the civil argument against radical redefinition of this vital social institution.
Seventh-day Adventists also have an obligation to champion liberty of conscience for all, as the gift of God. This means that while the state may legitimately provide for the legal and social needs of the gay community, it should not do so at the expense of the rights of religious conscience. The state should not pressure the church to conform to the gay rights agenda as a condition of legal and social acceptance, as it is currently doing.
The Church State Council encourages all to actively support the Marriage Amendment. Pastors and church leaders may become part of a clergy network supporting the Marriage Amendment by e.mailing to: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.