In a 5-4 ruling on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the right of same-sex couples to marry is part of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws, and therefore any state law that in any way limits this right is unconstitutional and void. The effect of the Court’s decision was to invalidate laws and constitutional provisions in 13 states defining marriage solely as a union between one man and one woman.
This article will summarize the court’s ruling and then assesses its effects on churches and ministers.
The Supreme Court’s decision
The Court concluded that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them. . . . State laws . . . are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.”
The Court briefly addressed the issue of religious freedom as follows:
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. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex. (emphasis added)