WASHINGTON (BP) — A state law that restricts marriage to a man and a woman does not express hostility toward same-sex couples, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and four other religious organizations say in a new brief filed with a federal appeals court.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and four other members of a diverse coalition called Feb. 23 for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis to uphold the right of the citizens of Missouri to define marriage as only a heterosexual institution. In November, a federal judge struck down a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman.
ERLC and the other religious organizations “are standing together for a truth as old as human civilization itself,” Russell Moore, the entity’s president, said.
“The state did not create the family, and cannot re-create it,” he said in an ERLC news release. “We appeal to the court to recognize and to stay within the limits of its authority.”
Marriage is important, Moore said, “because marriage is about more than registering relationships at a courthouse. Marriage is about the common good and flourishing of society.”
In addition, as a Christian, Moore believes “with Jesus and the apostles that marriage points beyond creation to the Gospel union of Christ and his church.”
In the friend-of-the-court brief, the ERLC and the other organizations say the frequent accusation that defenders of the biblical, traditional definition of marriage “are motivated by ‘anti-gay animus'” is “false and offensive.” This charge by advocates of same-sex marriage “is intended to suppress rational dialogue and civil conversation, to win by insult and intimidation rather than by persuasion, experience, and fact,” they say in the brief.
The ERLC joined the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on the brief. The same organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief last February with the 10th Circuit Court in defense of laws in Oklahoma and Utah restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. In June, however, the 10th Circuit upheld lower court rulings invalidating the measures.
The Eighth Circuit has scheduled oral arguments May 11 in Omaha, Neb., to rule on the marriage laws of Missouri, Arkansas and South Dakota, according to the Associated Press.
The ERLC-endorsed brief for the Eighth Circuit was filed as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in the appeal of a similar case from the Sixth Circuit. In November, the Sixth Circuit became the first federal appeals court to rule states could limit marriage to the union of a man and a woman. Four other appeals courts had previously invalidated state laws that prohibited gay marriage. The Sixth Circuit opinion came in challenges to laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in April and issue a decision before it adjourns in the summer. If the justices release a decision this term, gay marriage could be legal throughout the country by the end of June or states could maintain their authority to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
Rather than hostility or ignorance, their motivation for defending male-female marriage is “because we believe it is right and good for children, families, and society,” the ERLC and the others say in the brief. Their religious traditions teach this truth, but “so do reason, long experience, and social fact,” they say.
They also recognize marriage has “spiritual significance” and is even “sacred,” their brief says. “We make no apologies for these sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Their support for the biblical, traditional definition of marriage is not concentrated on opposition toward homosexuals, the ERLC and their allies say in the brief. “As our faith communities seek to sustain and transmit the virtues of husband-wife marriage and family life, our teachings seldom focus on sexual orientation or homosexuality,” they say.
The diverse groups say in the brief, “Our theological perspectives, though often differing, converge on a critical point: that marriage between a man and a woman is vital to the welfare of children, families and society.”
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 37 states, nearly tripling the 13 states where it was legal in mid-2013. It also is legal in the District of Columbia.
The expansion of same-sex marriage has resulted in a growing clash between the rights of gay couples and the religious freedom of individuals and organizations. Photographers, florists, bakers and other business owners who oppose serving in support of same-sex wedding ceremonies have been penalized or are facing penalties for their refusal.
The case at the Eighth Circuit is Lawson v. Missouri.