Rainbow Banner Day

No, these are not actually the colors of their robes. Except for the black ones; those are real.

The sad part of the decision is that it was so close. This one should have been a no-brainer.

The vote was 5-4, a complete liberal-conservative split, with Justice Kennedy, author of the two previous decisions expanding basic rights to include gay and lesbian people, being the swing, deciding, vote, as well as author of this decision. All three decisions arrived on June 26, and human dignity was the common theme in each. The opposing justices were nearly apoplectic in their dissents, stooping in Scalia's case to critiquing Kennedy's prose, while Roberts fretted that marriage equality opens the door to the normalization of polygamy, and Thomas grumbled that dignity is not something that can be either granted or taken away by a government, citing slavery and internment camps as cases of human beings remaining dignified even as they were legally treated as subhuman by the United States.

In the end, then, as with the decision on the Affordable Care Act issued yesterday, the Supreme Court decided pragmatically and inevitably in favor of treating larges classes of Americans--in this case, gay Americans, in yesterday's case, the millions of previously-uninsured Americans now covered by the ACA--as exactly what they are: human beings deserving of all the rights and responsibilities accorded every other American by the Constitution.

In fact, both these cases reach deeper than the Constitution, to the very foundation of American identity: the rights, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Reading Justice Roberts's conclusion to yesterday's decision, and Justice Kennedy's to today's, what comes through most clearly is that the Court had the power to either protect or harm the lives, liberty, and happiness of millions of Americans, and chose to err on the side of protection. As I said at the outset, it grieves me that there were any "no" votes cast in either case.

It continues to grieve me that my former co-religionists, the membership of the United Methodist Church, are still so solidly on the side of the Supreme Court's minority on this decision. There are even efforts being taken to dilute the say of the entire Western Jurisdiction--much more than half the geographical territory of the denomination--in decisions made at General Conference, for the simple reason that western United Methodists are consistently more progressive than any those of any jurisdiction. It's as if Congress were to pass a law reducing the number of members who could be elected from blue states.

Much of my distress comes from how obvious this should be for anyone who takes seriously the teachings of Jesus: of all people, the church should be most concerned with the well-being of the marginalized, whether we call them Samaritans, beggars, prostitutes, tax collectors, prisoners, children, women, or gay. At its best, the United Methodist Church has placed such outreach at the core of its identity. At its worst, and all too often, it has sided with slave-owners, Klansmen, bigots, misogynists, and homophobes, positions that mirror the fluctuating role of the Supreme Court in expanding and contracting the rights of Americans.

I've been thinking a lot about the role of the Confederate battle flag in the ongoing divisions our nation is suffering. I wrote just after the Charleston shooting about how, contrary to what many of my atheist friends have been saying, the attack was not just an assault on African-Americans, but on religious African-Americans. I was delighted to hear this morning, then, that Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (a denomination that embodies, in so many ways, all that is wrong with Southern Christianity--sexism, racism, homophobia, fundamentalism, and on and on) has called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from all Southern Baptist churches, saying, powerfully, that
The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire
I couldn't have said that better myself. And I've tried.

The tragedy of United Methodism, and of so much other mainline Protestantism, is that these denominations are struggling so hard to maintain their unity that they are contorting themselves to make room for both the haters and the lovers. In the process, they lose all relevance, whether to progressives or reactionaries. Churches that fully embrace inclusion are vibrant communities where love is affirmed in all its forms. Churches that sincerely reject such radical equality marginalize themselves, as American society as a whole continues to progress toward greater and greater expansion of human rights. It's absolutely their right to express their bigotry, and the right of every other American to either ignore them or gently encourage them to take their protests somewhere less offensive.

I can go on ranting about the reactionary homophobia of the four members of the Supreme court who opposed this decision, and the conservative believers they represent. But I'd rather not. This is a day for celebration. Justice Kennedy summed it up beautifully with these words:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
As was the case with Russell Moore's words, I could not have said this better myself. Thank you, Justice Kennedy.


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