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The Supreme Court v. the Lord Our Righteousness

by Jeffrey Stivason • September 9, 2015 •

The salient portion of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling reads, “The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them” (22-23).[1]  In other words, and as you by now know, same sex marriage has become a civil right in the United States.  This raises a serious implication, namely, religious freedom is now in question.

But someone who has read the Majority Opinion may object.  For example, on page 27 we read, “Finally, 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 statement appears comforting.  However, the Justices who dissented from the majority’s opinion are not so easily convinced.  Take Chief Justice Roberts Dissent for instance.  He writes,

Today’s decision, for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty. Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution. Amdt. 1. (27)

Chief Justice Robert’s language should not be lost on us.   The new civil right for same sex couples is imagined whereas freedom to exercise religion is spelled out in the constitution.  Roberts continues.

The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses. (27-28)

But why does Justice Roberts make this point?  He explains, what if, “for example, a reli­gious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples” (28).  What then?  Roberts says, “the Solicitor General candidly acknowl­edged that the tax exemptions of some religious institu­tions would be in question if they opposed same-sex mar­riage.” (28)  And so, concludes Roberts, “There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court.”  But then, he adds something very ominous.  He writes, “Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.” (28)  It is clear from the Chief Justice’s Minority Opinion that the exercise of religion, though spelled out in the First Amendment of the Constitution, may be trumped may the imagined right of same sex couples. 

Justice Alito has a similar fear expressed in his Dissent.  He writes,

Perhaps recognizing how its reasoning may be used, the majority attempts, toward the end of its opinion, to reas­sure those who oppose same-sex marriage that their rights of conscience will be protected. Ante, at 26–27. We will soon see whether this proves to be true. I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools. (7)

It appears, according to the Justices in the minority, that those who desire to exercise their religious beliefs will be reduced to whispering in their homes.

But in addition to these warnings, it appears that the attacks are already well under way.  For example, on Time Magazine’s website, Mark Oppenheimer wrote an article titled, “Now’s the Time to End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions.”[2]  Oppenheimer has taken his cue from Senator Mike Lee of Utah who introduced the First Amendment Defense Act which will insure that religious institutions will not lose tax exemption status if they do not support same sex marriage.  Unlike the Dissenting Supreme Court Justices, Oppenheimer, citing the majority ruling, believes that Senator Lee’s fears are unfounded but, he adds, the Senator isn’t crazy to think this way. 


Because in the 1983 Bob Jones University case, the court ruled that a school could lose tax-exempt status if its policies violated “fundamental national public policy.”  The siege is upon us.

I am reminded of Psalm 11 and the famous question David’s advisors put to him, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  David has an answer.  He says in verse 1, “In the Lord I take refuge.”  This means at least this, we trust that the things which are happening are not outside of the Lord’s rule and reign.  He is sovereign. 

But at this point, a question arises. Why?  For what purpose would he ordain such a thing?  Psalm 11 is helpful because it gives an answer to the “why” question.  Notice, the eyes of the Lord see.  But they don’t simply see.  They test the sons of men.  He puts them on trial; he scrutinizes them.  The Psalmist says, He tests the righteous and the wicked.  Now, how might we think of this at least as we think of it as believers? 

Well, think of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  When Christian approaches the Palace Beautiful he is stopped short by two lions along the path.  However, their presence is explained by the Porter at the gate when he calls out.  "Is thy strength so small? Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that have none. Keep in the midst of the path, and no hurt shall come to thee."  Now, here is the lesson.  The lions in this world are chained by the Lord.  There is nothing to fear.

[1] The Majority and Minority Opinions can be found here:  Page numbers will be from individual opinions.


Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.

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