The Downfall of DOMA

July 1, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Supreme Court 1The headline was welcomed with both cheers and tears:  “Supreme Court strikes down Defense of Marriage Act.”[1]  For some, this ruling was a welcomed vindication – and indication that the argument for same-sex marriage had not only won the day in the Supreme Court, but in the court of public opinion.  Others were saddened and even embittered.  Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee tweeted:  “My thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay:  ‘Jesus wept.’”[2]

So how is a Christian to respond to this ruling?  There are two things I believe that are paramount to any Christian’s response.

The first is humility.  Responding with bravado – either for or against this ruling – is not helpful.  Whether it be the raucous celebrations of many of this ruling’s supporters or the vitriolic denouncements of many of this ruling’s detractors, anything less than a humble and gentle spirit leads to combat rather than conversation.   And as I have written elsewhere, simply trying to win against each other rather than listening to each other means that no matter who supposedly “wins,” everybody loses.[3]

The second thing needed is honesty.  Christians need not compromise moral conviction when it comes to human sexuality.  We simply must hold to our convictions humbly rather than haughtily.  The biblical moral vision for human sexuality is clear:  sexual intimacy is to be reserved for a husband and wife in the lifelong covenant of marriage (cf. Genesis 2:24-25).  Deviations from this – be they fornication, adultery, or homosexuality – are prohibited by Holy Writ.  It’s okay to say this.  It’s okay to stand up for this.  It’s okay to make a moral pronouncement on marriage.

Indeed, as I have thought through the court’s ruling on DOMA, I find Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion to have far reaching moral implications:

The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.

The history of DOMA’s enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages, a dignity conferred by the States in the exercise of their sovereign power, was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence. The House Report announced its conclusion that “it is both appropriate and necessary for Congress to do what it can to defend the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage. … H. R. 3396 is appropriately entitled the ‘Defense of Marriage Act.’ The effort to redefine ‘marriage’ to extend to homosexual couples is a truly radical proposal that would fundamentally alter the institution of marriage.”… The House concluded that DOMA expresses “both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.” … The stated purpose of the law was to promote an “interest in protecting the traditional moral teachings reflected in heterosexual-only marriage laws.”[4]

In Justice Kennedy’s opinion, DOMA was drafted and passed into law with the express purpose of interfering “with the dignity of same-sex marriages.”  How does he know this?  Because DOMA demonstrates “both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.”  In other words, Justice Kennedy claims that the Judeo-Christian morality in which DOMA is grounded diminishes the dignity of same-sex marriages.  Such a diminishment cannot be tolerated.  It is, in a word, illegal.  This is why DOMA must be overturned.

The duty of the Supreme Court justices is to render legal decisions.  But every legal decision carries with it an indissoluble moral component.  In this instance, this legal decision’s moral component is in the declaration that a law based on the Judeo-Christian sexual moral standard is discriminatory and illegal.  Such a pronouncement replaces the Judeo-Christian sexual moral standard with a sexual moral standard of its own – one that is open to same-sex marriage while still, interestingly enough, discriminating against other forms of marriage (e.g., polygamy).  Thus, what Justice Kennedy and the Supreme Court majority have done is issued not only a legal opinion, but a moral valuation.

Laws are irreducibly moral.  Laws against murder or perjury or theft inevitably promote some vision of what morality is and means. Thus, even the justices of the Supreme Court cannot render a strictly amoral legal verdict on whether or not to federally recognize same-sex marriages.  What they declare on this issue will always, in some way, involve judgments of and on morality.  The question we must ask ourselves is, “Is the morality of the Supreme Court majority the right morality?”

Justice Kennedy has given his answer.  What’s yours?


[1] Pete Williams & Erin McClam, “Supreme Court strikes down Defense of Marriage Act, paves way for gay marriage to resume in California,” NBCNews.com (6.26.2013).

[2] Mike Huckabee, twitter.com/govmikehuckabee (6.26.2013).

[3] Zach McIntosh, “The State Of Our Public Debate: Same-Sex Marriage As A Test Case,” zachmcintosh.com (4.8.2013).

[4] United States v. Windsor, 570 U. S. 1 (2013).

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