[Here's my last get-way-ahead pre-submitted column for June! Pax, jbg]
Faith Works 6-27-15
Weddings and June and what will change
You may have figured out, and I do mention from time to time (I trust not too often) that these columns are usually written well in advance of when you read them, in print or online.
I sketch out arcs and themes and look to particular date convergences, and there's more need, both for me and for the newspaper, at certain points of the year to write well in advance.
So this column is almost never "breaking news" of any sort, often not even within the same week. And the focus of "Faith Works" as a running feature on the "Your Faith" page is different from that of the pastor's columns that are expected to be more particular, more even doctrinal on occasion, crafted from a very particular perspective. That's what pastors are invited to do in their own voice, from their own tradition, in that space.
This is different, aimed both at the broad swath of Licking Countians who already have a faith commitment, and also at those who don't have that, but are interested in matters of belief and religion and practice. It is, in an awkward one word description, more "general."
So it is possibly a handicap, or in my own thinking an advantage of sorts, to be writing about marriage and churches and the Supreme Court well in advance of their anticipated decision this June. Odds are good you've heard about or read more by now as to what the justices have decided to rule regarding same-sex marriage and recognition of that innovation across the states of the union. Some states do, some don't, and Ohio is directly involved in one of the cases being decided this June, having been sued over not recognizing a same-sex marriage conducted in another state.
I am semi-certain that whatever the Supreme Court has decided, it's going to take a few weeks to process what they've presented as their ruling. I could be wrong, but odds are good in my reading of the landscape on this contentious subject that, even if the decision was provided a couple of weeks before this column hits print, we're not done figuring out all of the impacts and complications of their majority opinion. (And again, I don't know at all what that is, as I'm writing this.)
Here's what I am fairly certain of in advance. However the court rules, no clergy person is going to be required to marry any two people they don't wish to unite in Holy Matrimony. That's a First Amendment matter, and I don't see any way that's going to be impacted. Not as a matter of law.
As a matter of practice, this will create complications for some clergy. There are denominations that are more in support of same-sex marriage than others; some of those religious bodies are going through debates this summer at national gatherings as to how or if they will treat such unions as acts of the church, which is a different question than an act of the state.
So if you as a particular clergyperson choose not to perform a marriage ceremony under any new provisions created by Supreme Court rulings, you won't have an issue in terms of litigation or coercion, but you may have difficult conversations with your congregational leadership or denominational officials. Many of us have begun to have these conversations within our churches and between our official structures, but if you've hoped this issue would go away, it could be a summer where you're going to have to face the question.
And many pastors, even when their denominational affiliation is supportive of keeping close to a traditional definition of marriage, are considering no longer serving as "agents of the state" in signing marriage licenses. I think there are concerns afoot that signing any one license might create an obligation to "solemnize" any and all, and I don't see that happening. But with private businesses facing litigation and social pressure to support the new legal definition, I can see why many of my colleagues are saying "I will perform marriages, but only within the church context." It is a quirk of the evolution of the law on marriages as a civil contract that has left the last step for officially sealing that agreement in the hands of clergy. Where that role will end up . . . well, there's more to say next week on this.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; if you tell him he's falling behind the headlines, he will simply smile and agree. Tell him what news you think needs attention from the churches at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.