Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Gay marriage issue poses long-term quandary to some

“I will not officiate over any same-sex unions or same-sex marriage ceremonies,” the Rev. Ronnie Floyd of Arkansas, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, defiantly promised a conference of fellow Baptists meeting in Columbus, Ohio last week.

To which I say a hearty “amen”.

A statement issued the next day by Floyd and 16 former SBC presidents expressed the same attitude:

“Consequently, we will not accept, nor adhere to, any legal redefinition of marriage issued by any political or judicial body including the United States Supreme Court. We will not recognize same-sex ‘marriages’, our churches will not host same-sex ceremonies, and we will not perform such ceremonies.”

To which I also say “amen.”

I may disagree strongly with Baptist leadership on the legitimacy of gay marriage, but any American ought to defend their right to hold that opinion, and to honor that opinion in their churches and religious life.

If you believe that same-sex marriages are wrong, if you believe that such relationships are sinful in the eyes of the God whom you worship, then nothing the law says can force you to officiate over such marriage, to allow such ceremonies in your church, synagogue or mosque, or to participate in them. Even if the Supreme Court rules as expected that gay Americans have the same legal right to marry as do straight Americans, the First Amendment will protect the right to continue to believe otherwise.

But we do have difficult conflicts ahead of us. To cite a specific example, will Baptist universities that hire a wide range of people to perform their education mission remain eligible for federal student-loan programs if they deny same-sex married couples the right to live in dorms reserved for married students?

At the moment, it’s not a big concern, because no federal law outlaws discrimination against gay Americans. Nationwide, and in Georgia and 28 other states, there are no laws against firing a gay person for being gay, or refusing to do business with a gay person. However, passage of such a law is probable within the next decade, and at that point refusing to treat gay couples the same as straight couples will become much more difficult to sustain while remaining eligible for federal programs.

In their statement reiterating their stance against gay marriage, SBC presidents also stressed their support for individuals who defend “natural marriage” in the corporate and business world.

“Members of our congregations, Christians everywhere, are being asked to support something in their business environment which is unconscionable,” the Rev. Jack Graham of Texas explained. “Whether it’s an HR department demanding that you showing up for diversity days and being supportive, members of our churches already being passed over, discriminated against, punished in some way because they refuse to bow down to this politically correct movement that wants to redefine marriage.”

On that point, I can offer Graham no reassurance. In years to come, the business and social culture is not going to give a pass to Baptists and others for what will increasingly be seen as anti-gay bigotry, and I can’t argue that they should. If that puts Baptists in a quandary, it is a quandary that that only they can resolve.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.