What makes same-sex marriage an issue that Adventists should protect as a matter of religious liberty?
At creation, God sanctified two institutions that have stood the test of time—the Sabbath and marriage. These represent lasting covenants of faithfulness and love. Seventh-day Adventists have championed both of these institutions, and in doing so, we have also stood firm on the principle that we serve a God who does not coerce the conscience on Sabbath or marriage.
Today, there are many who keep what Adventists believe to be the wrong day of the week, or choose not to honor the Sabbath at all. Yet, in light of a global history of religious persecution, we stand by the rights of those who do not observe the Sabbath as we do. We do this because we believe in religious freedom for all, regardless of creed, or lack thereof.
Proposition 8, the Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Act, tries to amend California’s constitution to define marriage as being only between a man and a woman using a religious viewpoint – it’s informed by God’s creation of marriage in the Garden of Eden. This act would clearly put the State as arbiter of competing theologies because millions of Christians and folks of other faiths define marriage differently.
Adventists have traditionally been very strong advocates of a clear separation between church and state and have sought to protect the rights of minority religious beliefs. Even though most Adventists would agree that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, amending the state’s constitution to coerce a religious and moral viewpoint is contrary to our traditional public witness.
In 2008, our commitment to religious freedom is being tested: will Adventists will hold firm to their separation of church and state principles, not just on the Sabbath, but on marriage too?
There are many people in society who practice forms of relationships that are not compatible with God’s intention at creation, including co-habitation before marriage, pornography, sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage, adultery, divorce, and more. Adventists have wisely not advocated legal action against those who practice such behaviors because we recognize that we serve a God who does not coerce the conscience, even though these deviations drive families apart. We trust in the grace of God to help us all live according to Biblical principles and reject the notion that any State should legislate morality.
Unfortunately, in advocating support for Prop. 8, the Pacific Union Conference’s Church State Council has taken on a cause and joined with groups at odds with this Adventist tradition of the separation of church and state .
But if Proposition 8 is not passed, won’t that lead to Adventist and other Christian pastors being required to perform same-sex marriages?
No. Mitch Tyner, recently retired Associate General Counsel, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and former Associate Director, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, writes that: “No pastor, at least in the US, can be forced to marry anyone.” He adds, “all the verbiage about the danger of churches being muzzled and pastors being required to perform gay marriages is, in my view, mere hype.”
Pastors will retain their right to only marry those couples they feel comfortable marrying and that their denomination approves for marriage. The state will not be able to force a pastor to marry a same-sex couple, nor dictate religious institutions’ rental policies, just as churches can now make hiring decisions over creed.
If Prop 8 fails, pastors and churches retain the same rights that they have today to choose whether or not to bless any marriage.
But as Christians we should work to support and strengthen Christian marriage. Doesn’t Proposition 8 do that?
Seventh-day Adventists support strong relationships, and as we have done when it comes to heterosexual issues, the church should focus on fostering strong marriages. Unfortunately, we have let our guard down when it comes to protecting families in our own churches—advocates of same-sex marriage would point out our hypocrisy as we do have an unacceptable divorce rate, adultery rate, and sexual abuse rate.
In light of our traditional principles of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, we cannot use the power of the State to implement the Biblical model of human relationship as Adventists understand it. That would only create legal and moral confusion. If we are to present ourselves as advocates of positive Christian marriage, our key argument should focus on the best of what marriage can be. We will only know that we have reached this goal when the secular world – as with our health message – takes notice that Seventh-day Adventist lifestyle is worth emulating.
Doesn’t the Bible clearly condemn homosexuality? How can we possibly vote “no” on Prop 8 and still claim to follow the Bible?
While individual Adventists will hold a diversity of views on same-sex marriage and the role of religion in public life, we want to be clear that voting “no” on Prop 8 is NOT the same as endorsing same-sex marriage. Voting “no” on Prop 8 is simply saying that the state constitution is not the place to write a fundamentally theological definition of marriage into law.The Bible clearly supports our belief in the Seventh-day as the Sabbath, yet we don’t advocate that it become State law.
If we are unwilling to let any State enforce the Sabbath commandment, we cannot allow California to enforce biblical marriage, even though Adventists agree. This will set bad precedent for the future when those whose rights we deny today are needed to defend our religious liberty.
Will churches, schools and other religious organizations be required to change their hiring practices if Prop 8 does not pass? What about their religious freedom?
Just as we oppose Prop 8 because of its infringement on religious liberty, we would fight for the rights of churches and other religious institutions to act according to the dictates of the beliefs. This separation of church and state needs to work in both directions. However, there are no signs that this would ever be an issue since we already have had domestic partnerships and same-sex marriage since May of 2008 and religious institutions have not had their hiring rights infringed upon.
Religious organizations remain free to hire, fire, provide benefits, etc. according to their religious priorities and principles, and there’s no reason to think that will change. If it did, we would launch a similar campaign to continue to keep the line of separation between church and state clear and defined. It’s important to remember the issue that is before us today for this election and not make decisions out of fear of an hypothetical that hasn’t (and might not ever) become an issue.
But isn’t Prop 8 using a secular argument for opposing same-sex marriage?
The major backers of Prop 8, including several prominent denominations and religious leaders state that their goal is to “foster Judeo-Christian principles in California’s laws.” The Knights of Columbus has donated $1,300,000 to the “Yes on 8” campaign–more than any individual donation.
However, realizing the serious breach of Church-State separation Proposition 8 will cause, many proponents of Prop 8 have attempted to present two secular arguments: 1) historical views of marriage, and 2) children’s welfare.
First, a response to the argument that marriage has historically been between a man and a woman–that it’s a time-honored tradition of human civilization.
The historical reality is that the ancient world (including the biblical) was rife with polygamy and concubinage. One must go back to the Garden of Eden to find one man-one woman monogamy as the model for couplehood, and this is emphasized by Jesus in the Gospels. But in the Western world, concubinage continued until the 16th century when the Catholic Church finally declared it illegal. In many parts of the world, societies have allowed polygamy and concubinage into the 19th and even 20th century. Globally, the norming of monogamy is a relatively recent shift.
Without invoking Scripture, it is very difficult to make the argument that the societal norm for marriage must be marriage between one man and one woman.
Second, a response to the argument that children will be impacted negatively–that children in traditional homes will be confused and that children in homes with same-sex parents will be harmed.
The American Psychological Association sites numerous controlled studies–empirical research conducted by professional researchers–that reveals the following facts about same-gender couples:
- Beliefs that lesbian and gay adults are not fit parents have no empirical foundation.
- Lesbian and heterosexual women have not been found to differ markedly either in their overall mental health or in their approaches to child rearing.
- Same-gender couples who are parenting together have most often been found to divide household and family labor relatively evenly and to report satisfaction with their relationships.
- The results of some studies suggest that lesbian mothers’ and gay fathers’ parenting skills may be superior to those of matched heterosexual couples. For instance, Flaks, Fischer, Masterpasqua, and Joseph (1995) reported that lesbian couples’ parenting awareness skills were stronger than those of heterosexual couples. This was attributed to greater parenting awareness among lesbian non-biological mothers than among heterosexual fathers.
- Lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive home environments for children.
- Children of same-gender couples demonstrate healthy peer relationships and appropriate gender identity & sexuality.
- Children in same-gender households adopt gender-role behavior equivalent to children in heterosexual households.
Read more about the research and data from the American Psychological Association.
In addition to the empirical data available, if same-gender couples adopting or bearing (themselves or through surrogates) children is more beneficial for society than single parents raising children, and if domestic partners adopting children (often from tragic situations) provide a beneficial service to society, then the argument that “It’s for the children” seems a very difficult argument to sustain.
The arguments of tradition and children’s welfare, when empirical data shows children in same-gender households are as well off as those in heterosexual households, are tenuous and insufficient secular arguments in favor of Prop 8. What proponents of Proposition 8 really present is a specifically scriptural argument that is in search of a secular reasoning to skirt the establishment of religion concerns. Hence the belief that Adventists, with their traditional stance on a clear separation between church and state, can and should vote “no” on Prop 8, even if they do not endorse same-gender marriage.
What could be the effect of Proposition 8 on local congregations?
Many pastors oppose Prop. 8 because they feel it distracts from the Christian’s duty to follow the example of Jesus. There were many un-Biblical practices in Jesus’ day, but He focused on preaching about the present and future kingdom of God, healing the hurting and caring for the least of these. Rarely does religious partisanship open doors for those who wish to reach out to their communities.