LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Kentucky’s definition of marriage is on a “slippery slope” after a federal judge’s decision, warn Baptist leaders — despite a state constitutional amendment approved by 75 percent of, or 1.2 million, voters in 2004.
U.S. District Court Judge John Heyburn ruled Wednesday (Feb. 12) in Louisville that the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed out-of-state and to do otherwise would violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Heyburn did not make a ruling regarding the legality of performing same-sex marriages in Kentucky.
Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, wrote on his blog that Heyburn’s decision “usurped the will of Kentucky voters.” He called the development “tragic and disappointing,” adding if the ruling stands, the state’s constitutional definition of marriage would be “in jeopardy.”
“As Heyburn declares that the Commonwealth must recognize gay marriages performed in other states, the Constitution of Kentucky is being undermined,” Chitwood wrote. “This decision moves us down the slippery slope toward launching Kentucky into moral chaos and depriving children of their innate need of both a father and a mother.”
Supporters of same-sex marriage responded to Chitwood’s blog soon after the statement was published, labeling his comments insulting and intolerant.
“What is truly tragic is that the Southern Baptist Convention has turned into an institution that no longer values individual thought and personhood, but rather feels compelled to dictate what it thinks is right,” commented a writer identified as Luke Hall.
Joining Chitwood in speaking out against the ruling was Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr.
“Once again, we face a federal court striking down a constitutional amendment that had been overwhelmingly adopted by the citizens of a state,” Mohler wrote on his blog. This decision marks the 10th state or federal court to hand down rulings on the issue of same-sex marriage based on the outcome of United States v. Windsor case, he noted. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last June that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and made it illegal for the federal government to refrain from recognizing state-approved marriages of same-sex couples.
A federal judge in Virginia brought that total to 11 on Feb. 13 when Arenda Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court in Norfolk declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional. The ruling also overturned a constitutional amendment adopted by voters in that state. Virginia would also respect same-sex marriages that were performed in other states.
Evan Wolfson, president of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry, issued this statement: “The bipartisan momentum for marriage is building at an unprecedented speed. In just the past several weeks, federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma, and Kentucky; the Attorney Generals of Virginia and Nevada; the Governor of Nevada, and now a federal judge in Virginia have all said that marriage discrimination against loving and committed gay couples is indefensible under our Constitution. There has been a fundamental shift in the legal landscape.”
Back in Kentucky, Mohler called the words of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia prophetic when in his dissent Scalia wrote, “[N]o one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe.”
“As Justice Scalia predicted, we did not have to wait long for the other shoe [to fall],” Mohler noted. “Within hours of Judge Heyburn’s decision, advocates of same-sex marriage announced their intention to file a challenge to what remains of Kentucky’s marriage amendment.”
Mohler then made his own prediction: “[O]pposition to the recognition of any and all forms of human relation will soon pass away — or at very least be dismissed as of no legal significance,” Mohler wrote. “Soon we will face very real challenges to religious liberty.”
Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation of Kentucky, said voters in the state will be disappointed with the ramifications of this decision.
“This decision puts Kentucky voters on notice that if their reasons for defining marriage as between a man and a woman don’t correspond with the political ideology of liberal judges, their votes don’t count,” Cothran said. “If a state like Utah were ever to legalize polygamy, Kentucky would be forced to recognize it under this decision.”
Other religious liberty issues pointed out by the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s executive director included the definition of “hate speech,” the legalization of marijuana and other drugs, and sanctity of life concerns such as euthanasia and cloning.
Chip Hutcheson, KBC president, warned that Kentucky Baptists can no longer expect the government to lead them down a moral path.
“There is no question that the full-fledged effort to redefine marriage will not end here, but I fear will only pick up steam,” Hutcheson, the editor and publisher of the Princeton (Ky.) Times-Leader, said. “And that means religious liberty is under attack. Those of us who have the conviction that same-sex marriage is contrary to the teaching of Scripture will see escalating efforts to not only muffle our voices, but, in fact, to finance this lifestyle.
“Christians will be expected to celebrate a lifestyle we believe to be morally depraved,” he said.
The important aspect to remember, said KBC Public Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Weaver, is that a much higher court than the Supreme Court has already ruled on the definition of marriage and it has not, and cannot be changed.
“The sanctity of marriage exists because God defines marriage, not federal judges,” Weaver said. “The court has usurped the will of the people and our Constitution, but this is not the worse place for us, because it puts us in a place of greater dependence upon the God of the universe.
“We must remember that we are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces,” Weaver said. “This does not mean we should demonize our opponents, but that there are spiritual forces at work and we must be constantly vigilant.”
Weaver cautioned that it may not be long before ministers are forced to perform same-sex marriages under the threat of their churches losing tax-exempt status.
Heyburn’s ruling, which stems from a lawsuit brought by four gay and lesbian couples, is not final. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, another hearing on the matter will be scheduled in the near future.
“The ACLU of Kentucky asks the state to let the ruling stand rather than appealing the decision, as it has been done in several other states,” Michael Aldridge, executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky, said. “If the decision is appealed, the ACLU of Kentucky will file an amicus brief in support of marriage equality.”
As leader of Kentucky’s largest religious organization, Chitwood said his hopes were quite the contrary.
“I pray the appeals process will honor the Commonwealth’s constitution and protect her children,” the executive director said. “Any departure by government from the historical definition of marriage between a man and a woman welcomes chaos into the lives of children, families, communities and a society. We, therefore, implore our elected officials and judges, whether appointed or elected, to maintain the current wording of our state constitution.”
Weaver said that while this latest ruling casts a gloomy cloud over the hopes of Kentucky Baptists to live in a society honoring to God, it provides an opportunity to remind each other about the nature of Christian discipleship.
“We are called to take up a cross and follow our crucified Savior. We weren’t promised that it would be easy; in fact, we were promised that it wouldn’t be,” Weaver said.
“However, we know that there is a day coming when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and He shall reign forever and ever,” he said. “Until that day, we stand, speaking the truth in love, with conviction and kindness, willing to suffer for our beliefs, but not as downcast and defeated doubters. We can press on with joy because we know the end of the story. Christ wins.”
Robin Cornetet Bass is news director of the Western Recorder, newspaper of Kentucky Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).