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McManus - Ethics & Religion
August 2, 2006
Column #1,301
Advance for Aug. 5, 2006

Gay 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 biological parents."

     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 going on. 

     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 adults' aspirations."

     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 Life-Giving Womb."

     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 Puerto Rico.

     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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