The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments April 28 about laws related to the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. While the ruling won’t come until this summer, most legal experts and court watchers believe the end result will be legalization of same-sex marriage.
Many will decry their decision with dire warnings about the damage this decision will do to our country. Others will celebrate it as a courageous application of the law guaranteeing the rights of everyone who wants to marry whomever they choose. While my viewpoint is reflected in the first option, it’s also important to keep the decision in perspective.
The Supreme Court has been wrong – disastrously wrong – on multiple occasions in the past with dreadful consequences. For example, in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the court effectively legalized slavery – leading to the Civil War. Or another example, Plessy v. Ferguson was used to justify “separate but equal” reasoning – institutionalizing segregation for 60 years. And, the worst decision in my lifetime – Roe v. Wade – has contributed to more than 55 million abortions since it became law.
The Supreme Court decides what is legal, in the current cultural milieu, and has always been politicized in its decisions. That’s not new or news. The court does not decide timeless truth, or what is moral or ethical. They decide what is legal, always with deference to current cultural pressures. They interpret the Constitution, deciding what principles apply in cases that come before them. As these examples demonstrate, they have been wrong – tragically wrong – on major issues in past years. All indications are they are about to be wrong again.
How should we respond? With deference as much as possible, being models of living under the rule of law. With disobedience, when conscience demands and a contrite willingness to experience whatever consequences befall us.
Our country – and subgroups in our country – have survived bad court decisions before and can again. It will be challenging, but it can be done.
Get ready. You are likely to have the opportunity.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif.)