Some On Line Opinion readers will be delighted with the United States Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Others, less so. State bans on same-sex marriage, the court ruled 5 to 4, were contrary to the due process and the equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and therefore, unconstitutional. Same-sex marriage is now legal in every state in America.
One person interviewed shortly after the announcement, and questioned about the rainbow colours that lit up the White House, said that it saddens him, and that he feels like a stranger in his own neighbourhood and a pariah among his circle of friends. Some said they will "move to Australia which doesn't have gay marriage," a move I would suggest they make sooner rather than later (and with a return ticket). A single mum with a tear in her eye told a reporter that she now feels like an alien, despite having lived at the same New York City address for over thirty years. "Now I feel," she said, "like I really am on the wrong side of history."
To many, the ruling comes from an alien understanding of the law as well. As the Chief Justice Roberts – who, only days earlier, had angered conservatives with an Obamacare ruling that basically saved the scheme from itself – concluded his dissent in Obergefell:
If you are among the many Americans who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.
The court's most reliable conservative, Justice Scalia joined Roberts' decision, but wrote "separately to call attention to this Court's threat to American democracy." He said:
…it is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today's decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine robs the People of the most important liberty: the freedom to govern themselves.
Given the importance of the Constitution in American life and lawmaking, and the conservative concern for judicial restraint, it is no wonder many feel like strangers and aliens, and that they worry about their country, even as they begin to feel like it isn't theirs anymore. Conservatives should be worried.
But not Christians. The Supreme Court may be wrong, but it's the highest court in the United States. If and when Federal Parliament permits same-sex marriage, it will be an act of the highest legislative body in Australia. Conservatives, at least for now, are indeed strangers and exiles. Christians, however, should embrace these descriptors.
The apostle Peter writing on the cusp of the reign of persecution for Christians by Emperor Nero referred to his fellow believers as "elect exiles" (1 Pet. 1:1), a term he linked not only with God's plan and purpose, but also with Christian sanctification and obedience (v. 2). Later, Peter calls Christians "strangers and aliens" (2:11), despite the majority of his readers holding Roman citizenship. The apostolic assumption is that the faithful Christian life will be lived in a place where the cultural, legal, and political norms make you feel like a refugee. The UN's preferred term, "internally displaced person" perhaps better captures what Peter's getting at.
Abraham too, lived in a foreign land, "looking forward to a city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). He and others were "strangers and exiles on the earth" (v. 13), desiring as they were, "a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (v. 16). God's people may be on the wrong side of history, but they are on the right side of eternity.
Whatever power judges and politicians feel they have over the word "marriage," no Supreme Court, and no Federal Parliament, can ever rule against the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. By that event, the Bible tells us, he has overcome the world. Christians should work in the world – and work to better it, loving their neighbour as Christ commands. But they must never worry about it. Christians can leave that to the conservatives.