LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Southern Baptists will stand firm on biblical principles despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gives same-sex couples the right to marry anywhere in the United States, denominational leaders said Friday.
“I don’t think many people in America are surprised by the SCOTUS ruling in favor of same sex marriage,” said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. “Given the tenor of the court and the culture, frankly, I would have been shocked by any other outcome.”
Gay and lesbian couples already could marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The court's 5-4 ruling means the remaining 14 states, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.
“Appealing to the First Amendment, biblically faithful Baptists in Kentucky will continue to preach and teach God’s truth on the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, as well as the sinfulness of the homosexual lifestyle,” Chitwood said. “Should the First Amendment fail to provide protection to the Church, nothing changes. Like the disciples, those who love the Lord and live by His Word will continue to do what pleases God rather than men, and face whatever consequences Caesar will bring.”
The ruling is the culmination of two decades of Supreme Court litigation over marriage, and gay rights generally.
“This is not the time for Christians to panic,” said Russell Moore, head of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “We have a God who is sovereign. The Supreme Court can do many things, but the Supreme Court cannot get Jesus Christ back into the grave.”
Moore said Southern Baptists need to respond appropriately.
“Our churches need to be the places that can receive the refugees from the sexual revolution, those who have been hurt and harmed by it,” Moore said. “We can’t do that if we give up the gospel. We can’t do that if we give up what the Bible teaches about marriage and sexuality. And we can’t do that if we’re angry at our neighbors and screaming at them, rather than loving them and speaking to them about the gospel that has saved us.”
The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. But some state officials and county clerks might decide there is little risk in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The cases before the court involved laws from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Those states have not allowed same-sex couples to marry within their borders and they also have refused to recognize valid marriages from elsewhere.
Chitwood said one of the most pressing questions involves the issue of religious liberty, pointing out that the ruling addresses that issue.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said “it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.”
The number of states allowing same-sex marriage has grown rapidly. As recently as October, just over one-third of the states permitted same-sex marriage.
There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to UCLA's Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says. Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.
The Associated Press provided background used in this story.