The news networks and internet are buzzing about May 15’s decision by the California Supreme Court striking down a California law that had previously banned the practice of homosexual marriage in the state. Now this does not tell the complete story because California grants registered “domestic partners” very similar benefits that are afforded to married couples (inheritance rights, insurance, etc.). While the initial effects of this decision particularly for the rights of homosexual couples may not change much for people in California, it is the foundation of the decision that may produce the most long-lasting effects.
The California Supreme Court declared that marriage is a fundamental right for all people and no distinction can be made regarding sexual orientation. The majority opinion stated, “We therefore conclude that in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.” If it is a fundamental right to form a family relationship defined as marriage, then the impact of this decision could be far-reaching.
First, homosexual couples who marry in California will ultimately move to other states. Those states that do not recognize homosexual marriage will face lawsuits attempting to force them to recognize their marriages as fundamental rights. Most of these cases will probably end up in their respective state supreme courts, and those justices will certainly be weighing the arguments of the California court.
Second, the definition of marriage as a fundamental right may ultimately lead to a stamp of approval for polygamous, polyamorous, incestuous, and underage marriages. In California, marriage has already been redefined; therefore, the next case may be to define marriage no longer as between two individuals but to include three, four, or more. While this case does not directly equate such relationships to marriage, it opens the door to these arguments.
Third, the court overturned a statute that had been previously approved through democratic process by the popular vote of the people of California. The “votes” of four judges overturned the votes of millions of citizens. Thus, we have seen the will of the people overturned by the will of the court. In our democratic republic with representation appointed by the vote of the people, this could have lasting consequences regarding judicial activism across the country.
Let us not think that this is an issue only affecting the West Coast. It is in our neighborhoods and our churches. The debate over homosexuality is alive and well in the Christian community—just look at the new books on the subject in the last few years. For Christians, it comes down to an interpretation of Scripture. However, there are some who attempt to interpret Scripture to support homosexuality (and ultimately homosexual marriage) as well. At the risk of sounding self-serving, I recently presented a paper evaluating the hermeneutics of those who attempt to support homosexuality from Scripture. You can find the audio here.