In the recent U.S. Supreme Court hearings on whether states have a constitutional right to ban (or refuse to recognize) same-sex marriages, the conservative justices seemed to be preoccupied with the definition of marriage. As Chief Justice Roberts stated, in response to advocate Mary Bonauto, “Every definition that I looked up prior to about a dozen years ago, defined marriage as a unity between a man and a woman as husband and wife. Obviously, if you succeed, that core definition will no longer be operable.”
Whereas this and similar comments made during the hearing are perhaps true on their surface—marriage in the past has not been defined as a relationship between same-sex couples—such comments are misleading, suggesting that the definition of marriage has been unchanged “for millennia,” or disingenuous.
Churches can and should affirm the moral significance of marriage without denigrating those who are not married. So we have argued before in this space, noting at the same time that such affirmations must be sensitive to the diverse experiences of the people in the pews.
When Robert Edgar of the National Council of Churches suddenly told the NCC’s General Assembly that he was removing his name from an evangelical-mainline-Catholic statement on marriage, it appeared he knocked a leg off the much-discussed wider ecumenical table he was in the process of building.