Ethics & Religion
August 2, 2006
Advance for Aug. 5, 2006
Marriage: Courts - No; Presbyterians - Yes
by Michael J. McManus
In recent weeks, courts in six different states have taken the conservative
position that state legislatures, or the public in a referendum, have the right
to limit marriage to a man and a woman. Such decisions might have been expected
in the conservative states of Georgia and Nebraska, but were delightfully
surprising in "blue states" Washington and New York.
The Washington State Supreme Court overturned lower court cases permitting
gay marriage by stating that the Legislature "was entitled to believe that
limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to the
survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by
encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children's
Even the highest court in New York State came to the same conclusion, that
the state constitution "does not compel recognition of marriages between members
of the same sex. Whether such marriages should be recognized is a question to be
addressed by the Legislature.
"We do not predict what people will think generations from now, but we
believe this generation should have a chance to decide the issue through its
elected representatives." It felt lawmakers could rationally conclude that "it
is better, other things being equal, for children to grow up with both a mother
and the father."
However, before concluding that a Federal Marriage Amendment is not needed,
remember two facts. First, the very liberal New Jersey Supreme Court appears
likely to endorse same-sex marriage, in a case it has been sitting on for
months. It apparently is waiting until after November election to release its
conclusion so that liberal politicos would not face voter wrath.
Second, the winds of change are rushing through major Christian
denominations. The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in June to allow local
presbyteries and churches to declare the church's constitution's prohibition of
ordaining practicing homosexuals as "non-essential."
By a vote of 298-221, the church's 217th General Assembly allowed a "local
option," which sets aside the ordination requirements that a person be either
married and faithful or chaste, if single. Practicing gays or lesbians had been
effectively proscribed from ordination.
However, 30 of the 173 presbyteries have already ordained gays or conducted
same-sex "blessings" so the local option decision simply ratifies what has been
Nevertheless, a coalition of conservative Presbyterians denounced the
decision as "a profound deviation from Biblical requirements, and we can not
accept, support or tolerate this decision. Many individuals and congregations
will conclude from this decision that the PCUSA has abandoned the historic faith
of the Church."
Orthodox Presbyterians are horrified. Jack Adams, editor of "The
Presbyterian Layman," a conservative newspaper with a half million circulation,
says "There are hundreds of churches poised to leave the denomination."
The denomination lost 65,000 members in 2005 alone, and even the national
church predicts a loss of 85,000 in 2006. The 4.3 million Presbyterians in 1965
has fallen to 2.3 million.
Why would a denomination which already lost half its members, embrace a
theology destined to drive out more Bible-believing Christians?
"Everybody hates to be regarded as bigoted," says Adams. "A lot of families
with gay children do not want to see their kids rejected."
However, even the French National Assembly rejected same-sex marriage "to
affirm and protect children's rights and the primacy of those rights over
A deeper issue is fidelity to Scripture. Interestingly, as Presbyterians
made optional whether one should "abstain from ... sexual immorality," (Acts
15:29), the church also decided to get creative with the Trinity. Since some
find the Biblical and historic name for God ("Father, Son and Holy Spirit")
offensive, the church gave permission for anyone to make up their own
names for the Trinity such as "Rainbow, Ark and Dove," "Rock, Redeemer and
Friend," "Giver, Gift and Giving" or "Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and
Another Mainline denomination, The Episcopal Church, which consecrated an
active homosexual as a bishop in 2003, refused to apologize for that action at
its meeting in June, as requested by the 72 million member worldwide Anglican
Union. It also elected Katherine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop, whose
first sermon began, "Our mother Jesus."
The future of these Mainline denominations can be seen in the United Church
of Christ. A year ago, it voted to grant marriage rights to same-gender
couples. Since that decision, the 1.1 million member church (down from 2.1
million in 1965) has lost 196 congregations, including all of its 66 churches in
Religious leaders are supposed to be America's moral leaders. It is ironic
that many courts are beginning to assume that role.
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