On December 7, 2012, the United States Supreme Court agreed to take up two cases that directly impact the definition of marriage in the United States.  This is the first time the Supreme Court has been asked to decide a case that confronts the issue of same-sex “marriage” directly, so the impact of these cases will be significant no matter the outcome.

It is important that you as a pastor have the right information to convey to your church members about this issue.  Alliance Defending Freedom has been at the forefront of these battles in courtrooms across the country and we want to ensure that you know what is happening in these significant cases so that you can take appropriate action.

The Cases

The Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases.  The first case is Hollingsworth v. Perry and concerns the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.  In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman only.  However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a divided opinion, held that Proposition 8 violated the federal Equal Protection Clause.  The Court of Appeals’ decision overrode the vote of the people on Prop 8 and opened the door for same-sex “marriage” in California.

The second case is United States v. Windsor.  This case concerns the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act known as DOMA.  This law was passed by Congress and defines marriage for all federal purposes as between one man and one woman only.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that DOMA’s definition of marriage violated the Equal Protection Clause.

As you can quickly see, these cases present the fundamental question of what is the legal definition of marriage.  Thus, the Supreme Court’s decisions on these two cases will have far-reaching ramifications for marriage in the United States.

The cases will likely be argued around the end of March, 2013.  A decision is expected from the Supreme Court by the end of June, 2013.

The possible outcomes

In Perry, there are a few outcomes possible.  First, the Court could affirm the Ninth Circuit’s decision, which would mean that California’s Prop 8 remains invalid.  The effect of such a decision would be to establish same-sex “marriage” in California and could trigger legal challenges to the laws in other states that define marriage as between one man and one woman.

The Court could also reverse the Ninth Circuit and hold that Prop 8 is constitutional.  This would mean that the definition of marriage in California would remain as one man and one woman only.  A decision like this could forestall challenges to other similar provisions in other states.

It is possible the Court could sidestep the issues altogether and decide the case on a technical issue.  It is difficult to predict what the effect would be.

In Windsor, the Court could affirm the Second Circuit, which struck down DOMA’s definition of marriage.  The immediate effect of such a decision would be to allow same-sex couples to be treated as married couples under federal law.  For example, same-sex couples could claim the benefits of marriage under federal tax law.  But the impact of the Court explicitly acknowledging same-sex “marriage” at the federal level would no doubt have broad and far-reaching consequences for religious freedom.  And a decision invalidating DOMA’s definition of marriage would surely threaten the validity of state provisions that define marriage as between one man and one woman.

The Court could also reverse the Second Circuit and hold that DOMA’s definition of marriage is constitutional.  A decision like this would protect traditional marriage at the federal level and could forestall future attacks on marriage definition provisions at the state level as well.

Again, it is possible the Supreme Court could decide the Windsor case on a technical issue.  The effect of such a decision would be hard to predict and would depend on what the Court says in its opinion.

What can your church do?

In light of these significant cases that confront the definition of marriage directly, what can your church do now?

1.         Pray:  Pray for the Court as it decides these cases.  Pray for the justices’ law clerks who will have significant input into these decisions.  Pray for the attorneys — Chuck Cooper in the Perry case and Paul Clement in the Windsor case  – who will argue against these radical attempts to redefine marriage.

2.         Be informed:  Regularly visit the Speak Up Church website for updated information about these cases.  Download our Marriage Talking Points and FAQs.  This is a valuable resource to prepare you for how to discuss marriage and the legal landscape surrounding this issue.  The American Church was not present when the Court decided Roe v. Wade. The Church needs to be present now and stay informed about the cases and their potential impact.

3.         Prepare:  It is possible that one of the outcomes of these cases will be the imposition of same-sex “marriage” in one or more states or across the country as a whole.  We know that everywhere same-sex “marriage” has been instituted, oppression and censorship of religious freedom has followed closely.  Your church must be prepared for this eventuality.  Download our resource Seven Things all Churches Should Have in their Bylaws.  Our website also contains suggested language for church bylaws on the topic of marriage.

Now is not the time to be alarmist.  The Church’s voice must be heard as our country wrestles with this issue.  We must pray for the justices who will decide these cases and for the lawyers who will argue the cause of righteousness. And we must be prepared for any outcome. Above all, we must recognize that, as Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”  Let us pray that God bends the hearts of the nine Supreme Court justices to protect marriage.