Attorney General Bill Schuette has asked a federal appeals court to freeze Judge Friedman’s decision so that he can appeal the ruling, insisting that this ban was the will of 59 percent of voters when it was added to the state constitution in 2004. While no one can say for sure what the final result will be, I would be shocked if Attorney General Schuette won on appeal.
This case raises a key question about the nature of law and rights in our society. Does the majority have a right to enforce their views upon a minority? Was the decision made by over half of the voters in our state almost ten years ago a decision that should stand — or was it one that is in violation of our nation’s higher principles of justice as enshrined in the United States Constitution.
From a legal standpoint, I agree with Judge Friedman and others who insist that the rights and freedoms guaranteed to every citizen in the constitution should be equally available and applied to all people regardless of sexual orientation. Even the attorneys for the state acknowledged that the plaintiffs in this suit, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, are excellent parents to their three adopted children. Rowse and DeBoer love each other and seek to have access to the same rights and benefits many opposite-sex couples take for granted.
From a Christian standpoint, though, I agree even more firmly with the court’s decision. Marriage, the choice to live in a covenanted life with another person, to promise to live a life of self-giving love for another, is one of the most powerful sacraments in the church. When I do pre-marital counseling at my church, I always tell couples that, theologically, they are the ministers of the sacrament of marriage — not the priest. They are the ones who make the sacrament happen through an exchange of vows, the joining of hands, and the giving and receiving of rings. My role as a priest is simply to declare God’s blessing, on behalf of the church, upon the relationship they have made.
Same-sex couples throughout our state, though refused equal rights in the courts and shamed out of far too many churches, have nevertheless created relationships that are clearly of the same self-giving love found in opposite-marriages. Indeed, given how difficult their choice to be together often is, their loving commitment is an even more powerful witness, a more powerful example of Christ’s love in our world.
We are told in Scripture that marriage is an image for Christ’s relationship with the church, a relationship founded upon being willing to give of yourself for another. So many of the same-sex couples I have known over the years have clearly demonstrated that love for their partners. Rather than simply live for themselves alone, they choose to live life with their partner, they choose to love sacrificially with the person God has brought into their life. They persist in commitment despite the misguided shaming of some in our society. My friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, who are in same-sex relationships inspire me to be a better spouse to my wife.
Marriage is indeed under threat in our society. People live lives that are focused solely on individualism and greed. Relationships are seen as disposable. My “needs” are seen as more important than anyone else’s. As a Christian who believes strongly that marriage can profoundly shape people, that it forces you to consider another person in ways you are rarely required when you are single, I am glad that I can now freely invite same-sex members of my congregation into this holy and covenanted state of life—and that it will now be legally recognized.
And I have a hunch that as same-sex couples throughout our state take advantage of this new and just opportunity, opposite-sex marriages will wind up strengthened in ways we do not yet even know.
The Very Rev. Jared Cramer serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven and as dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan. His reflections on life and ministry can be found on his blog: carewiththecure.blogspot.com.