A holy impatience: Supreme Court must right a great wrong on marriage

GETTY IMAGES Same-sex marriage proponent Kat McGuckin of Oaklyn, New Jersey, holds a gay marriage pride flag while standing in … Continued


Same-sex marriage proponent Kat McGuckin of Oaklyn, New Jersey, holds a gay marriage pride flag while standing in front of the Supreme Court on Nov. 30, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review state and federal legislation that currently limits the fundamental right to marry to heterosexuals. The court now has the opportunity to overturn these laws, and right a great wrong on discrimination because of sexual orientation.

Dramatic successes for marriage equality in the 2012 elections demonstrate how fast attitudes have been changing about marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. This success is due to both demographic changes and changes in societal attitudes toward being gay.

There is an argument to be made that there has been a need for cultural as well as religious momentum. As more and more faith groups support marriage equality today, for example, support for discrimination on marriage because of sexual orientation declines.

Practically speaking, these cultural and religious changes have been necessary. But from the perspective of what can be called “political holiness,” it is long past time for this wrong to be righted. Indeed, there is no argument from the standpoint of the “holy,” that is, from the standpoint of God’s justice over against human justice, that can ever justify discrimination against any human being or group merely for who they are.

In my faith perspective, as both a Christian pastor and theologian, human beings are created in the Image of God (Genesis 1:27) and that is the theological basis for opposing all forms of discrimination whether on gender, race, sexual orientation, national origin or class.

There will still be those who say anxiously, as the Supreme Court takes up these landmark cases, that the ‘country’s not ready.’ I hear this from those who are generally supportive of marriage equality for LGBT people as well, of course, from those who use delay as a softer way to get to “never.”

No. When it comes to basic equality as an aspect of holiness, no waiting is required.

A Holy Impatience” is the title of a biography of Rev. William Sloane Coffin, the great social justice faith leader. Coffin thought faith should be impatient. He wrote:

It is certainly possible that the Supreme Court will not act “wholeheartedly,” but rule in these cases on “narrower grounds” instead. Indeed, when looked at from a practical standpoint, this is a likely outcome.

It is counter-intuitive and perhaps even inappropriate for the Supreme Court of the United States to act with a “holy impatience.”

But in another way, it is not. The Constitution is not only a body of laws; it is also a vision of a better world. When I was asked to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the appointment of Judge John Roberts to be chief justice, I used Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal words from the “I Have A Dream” speech on the national mall. King powerfully contended the Constitution was a “promissory note” on equality. The Constitution should be seen as a promise that one day that dream would become reality for all.

Advent, the four weeks before the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, is also a time of “holy impatience” as Christians wait, expecting, hoping, dreaming that the promise of God-with-us will be fulfilled.

Christianity’s “holy impatience” of Advent is a specific faith vision, of course, but it connects with the human spirit and its universal longing for a better world where human dignity is respected and justice reigns.

Now is the time for the Supreme Court to act, not wait, as the equality of the human spirit should not ever be denied.

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite  is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress

  • Carney3

    The Constitution means ONLY what those who wrote and ratified it and its amendments meant when they wrote and ratified it.

    Not a single one of them could honestly be claimed to have intended to, by their actions, forcibly impose the modern-day “gay rights” agenda on unwilling elected legislatures.

    You can do all the grand speechifying you want about how “marriage equality” is a great idea. Fine, persuade your fellow citizens through free speech and the democratic process to bring that about in statute law, or even a constitutional amendment.

    But don’t dishonestly pretend the Constitution already mandates your personally preferred public policies.

    Progressives used to be more honest. That’s why when they wanted to guarantee the right of women, or 18 year olds, to vote in the Constitution, they did the hard work of actually passing Constitutional amendments, rather than merely pretending that a single phrase in the 14th Amendment already did their work for them.

  • Flipost

    As a christian I am ok with civil marriage equality. Our country agreed to accept all beliefs. we can’t cater to one or two religions when it comes to equality for all.
    I do believe the church has a right to deny marrying gays just like they do with any other couple. Just like I can be denied marriage in a synagogue because I am not Jewish churches/ other religious places of worship deny people these things all the time. I know for a fact my pastor will not marry an athiest couple.
    There will be some churches who will marry them. It’s not so much discrimination it’s just the belief system of the church.

  • OldDaveJersey

    The US Supreme Court has, on at least two occasions, ruled that marriage is a fundamental right protected by the 14th Amendment. I don’t believe those who developed and passed the amendment had interracial couples and convicted felons in mind either, but they still found sufficient reason to find the Equal Protection Clause applicable. Such cases usually involve analysis of several questions. In the case of marriage, these would include …. is the purpose behind civil marriage benefits/protections served by granting them to the class in question? Is that class fundamentally excluded from enjoying those benefits/protections under existing law? Is there any overriding reason for discriminating against the class in question, based on the public good? People on both sides of the debate can offer up arguments, though I think the arguments in favor of SSM are far stronger. But simply dismissing the notion that this a case appropriate for the SCOTUS is denying historical reality.

  • Revsusanrussell3

    And as an Episcopal priest and marriage equality activist I want to UNDERSCORE that civil marriage equality in NO WAY infringes on the protections in place guaranteeing faith communities the authority to make their own decision about what God does or does not bless. Civil marriage equality for same-sex couples is no more a threat to the religious liberty of those who believe God does not bless gay unions than civil divorce is to the religious liberty of Roman Catholics who do not recognize divorce. They are apples and oranges — and the time for equality is NOW!


    The Supreme Court will rule according to the supreme law,the Constitution.

  • gamiller1

    Revsusanrussell – You and that heretic bishop Sprong must be really tight and have graduated from the same liberal seminary. No doubt they taught philosophy, liturgy, some highly philosophical theology, but no really responsible exegisis of the Bible. You do know what exegesis is? For you to arrive at your extremes you MUST practice isosgesis instead, but that is where the Episcopal church is headed. I was raised in it but would no more claim it as my church than I would marry one of your oppressed faithful who also prefers his own gender. jDo the world and your parishoners a favor and forget what they taught you in cemetery and read the Bible for what it really means, for once.

  • gamiller1

    Susan, please do not ever againf mix your liberral dribble with the meaning of Christmas. The birth of the Savior of the world for all who would believe in him and the depravity of same sex marriage have absolutely NOTHING to do with each other and do not belong in the same sentence, paragraph or even article.

    Anybody can base and entire theology on one verse, but there are many other verses about the same and related issues. But let’s stick with your one scripture theology. By your logic, then, God is gay, lesbian, transgender, in addition to hetero. OR, despiete how one is born, is it a personal decision to take up with the same sex (some actually call it sin – like fornication, adultery, etc.)? fYou dound like a hardcore double predestsination Calvinist, for you assume that we are all born ONE way and havfe no choice, as Calvinists teach.

  • Catken1

    Gamiller, you have no more right to force others to adhere to your religious doctrines in order to enter a civil marriage than a radical fundamentalist Muslim has to veto your marriage unless you adhere to Sharia law in your choice of spouse.
    With respect to the civil law, your religion is irrelevant, and you may not force its dogmas on others. Period.

  • Joel Hardman

    Yes, please read the Bible for what it is: the writings of bronze age men.

  • Joel Hardman


    So you think we should be forever tied to the social mores of the 1700s (for most of the Constitution) and the 1800s (for the 14th Amendment)?

  • Joel Hardman

    By the way, I’d be will to bet that it’s no coincidence that the 18th and 19th century social ideas you defend probably align with your own social preferences.

  • jay2drummer

    People ARE born that way. The only “choice” gays make is to do what heterosexuals do and engage in sexual activity with the people they are naturally attracted to.

  • turzovka

    Are bi-sexuals “born that way?” How about two young “hot” girls hooking-up for fun in college? Born gay? Put 20 men on an island for 10 years with no outside contact and I will bet you more males will all of a sudden realize “I was born gay?” **** Despite the fact some people are born with proclivities of feminism, etc,. by and large most who live gay are a product of their environment. I am certain if these urges were suppressed like in the early 20th century, a guy might get married, pray to God, and much of those urges will dissipate. But our society doesn’t think that way anymore.

  • itsthedax

    This really isn’t an issue about religion. The question before the Supreme Court is whether the government should identify a minority group, and selectively strip rights away from it. Essentially, its a question of equal protection under the law for all americans.

    This should be an easy decision for them. The opinions in Loving v. Virginia should serve to provide any precedent the justices need.

  • Catken1

    Turzovka, sexuality can be fluid for some people (not all). But that doesn’t mean that society needs to push one form of sexuality on everyone, either. Why should gay people or bisexuals need to change?

    If your urge to marry and raise a family were suppressed, maybe you might pray to some god or other and live a celibate life. If your urge to become whatever profession you are was suppressed by society, maybe you might pray to some god or other and choose a profession society deems more acceptable for you. If your religion were suppressed by society, maybe you’d learn to pray to society’s preferred god and pick a different religion. But why should you have to?

    It is not the citizens’ responsibility to justify our free choices to society. It is society’s responsibility to justify any limits it wishes to impose on citizens, by showing clear and undue harm done to others’ lives and liberties.

  • Catken1

    “Minority groups are not denoted such based upon chosen behavior, but by genetic traits or nationalities. ”

    Religion is a chosen behavior. Try again.

    “Since homosexual behavior is not genetic, Loving vs. VA has no bearing.”

    You forget that the behavior of choosing an interracial marriage is not genetic at all, and no one has ever suggested that it is. Race is, yes, but so is sex – and barring gay marriage discriminates based on sex, not sexual orientation. A woman can marry any man, whatever his sexual orientation, but no woman, regardless of hers.

    Anyway, again, it is not citizens’ business to prove to the state that they may make their choices because they have no other choice, biologically – it is the state’s responsibility to justify limiting citizens’ choices by clearly explaining what direct, undue harm the choices they wish to bar have on the lives of those who do not consent to that harm.

    As for “polygamy and other aberrant unions”, if you have no reason to bar any of those other than “tradition”, or “religion,” or “I think they’re perverted,” then they shouldn’t be banned, regardless of what happens with gay marriage. If there are coherent, rational reasons to ban them, consisting of substantial harm inflicted on other people, then they should be banned, regardless of what happens with gay marriage. Either way, each question stands on its own merits, and we do not in fact have to make every possible change, without consideration of harm or rationality, because we have made one. (If that were the case, we’d have to change everything now, as marriage has changed substantially in the last couple of hundred years, in ways that affect all of our lives far more profoundly than just including a few more married gay couples would.)

  • itsthedax

    The fact is, every marriage in this country is a civil union, regardless of whether its peformed in a church.

  • itsthedax

    So, they also intended for slavery to last forever, and for women to never have the vote?

  • Catken1

    And “sexuality can be fluid” doesn’t actually mean that you get to choose the person you fall in love with. I’m bisexual, myself – I can fall in love with both males and females, but I have almost no control over which individual I do fall in love with, no more than anyone else. One can choose to nurture or suppress certain loves (at the moment, I choose to nurture my love for my husband and suppress any other potential romantic love, for a man or for a woman), but even that doesn’t always work, or no one would ever have their heart broken.

    Still, it’s not reasonable to suggest that government may take away our personal choices on no other grounds than the fact that we are physically capable of making the government-approved choice. We are a free society, and government exists to protect our liberties, we do not exist to serve government.

  • BackFatBarbie

    it’sthedax: “I know that you want the government to reassure you that your hatred, fear and prejudice is right and proper; but that’s not the role of government. That’s what religion is for. ”

    I’m sorry, dax, but that quote is sooo perfect I’m gonna steal it.