States Pass 'Religious Liberty' Laws in Lead Up to SCOTUS Ruling

Image via lev radin/shutterstock.com

Image via lev radin/shutterstock.com

By the end of June — and as early as next week — the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of gay marriage nationwide. In a pre-emptive move to refocus narrative and legislative control at the state level, two states this week enacted laws designed to protect religious objection to same-sex couples. Here's how.

Gay Marriage Hits Major Bump in Federal Appeals Court

The National Organization for Marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2013. Creative Commons image by Elvert Barnes/RNS.

The same-sex marriage movement lost its first major case in a federal appeals court Thursday after a lengthy string of victories, creating a split among the nation’s circuit courts that virtually guarantees review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 2-1 ruling from the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed lower court rulings that had struck down gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

More important, it gives Supreme Court justices an appellate ruling that runs counter to four others from the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th circuits. Those rulings struck down same-sex marriage bans in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho and Nevada, leading to similar action in neighboring states.

Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton, one of the Republican Party’s most esteemed legal thinkers and writers, issued the 42-page decision precisely three months after hearing oral arguments in the cases, with fellow GOP nominee Deborah Cook concurring. He delivered a rare defeat for proponents of same-sex marriage, who had won nearly all the cases decided from Florida to Alaska since the Supreme Court ruled against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013.

Sutton argued that appellate judges’ hands are tied by a one-sentence Supreme Court ruling from 1972, which “upheld the
right of the people of a state to define marriage as they see it.” Last year’s high court decision requiring the federal government to recognize legal same-sex marriages does not negate the earlier ruling as it applies to states where gay marriage is not legal, he said.

What Happens Next in the 20 States That Still Ban Gay Marriage?

Participants celebrate the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling in Kansas City, Mo. on June 26. Photo by Sally Morrow/RNS.

The Supreme Court’s decision to sit out the legal battle over same-sex marriage will — for now, at least — leave the future of laws prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying in the hands of lower state and federal court judges. But it also almost certainly means the couples challenging those laws are more likely to win in the end.

The court said Oct. 6 that it would not hear appeals from five states whose same-sex marriage bans had been invalidated by lower federal courts. The decision, issued without explanation, will likely lead to recognition of gay marriages in 11 more states. It also allows an avalanche of legal challenges to the remaining bans to keep going forward in state and federal courts, where gay and lesbian couples have overwhelmingly prevailed.

The court’s decision leaves unchanged 20 state laws blocking same-sex unions. Each is already under legal attack, facing challenges in state or federal court, and sometimes both. Challenges to marriage bans already have reached a handful of state appeals courts and the federal appeals courts for the 5th, 6th, 9th and 11th circuits.

Some of those judges had been waiting to see what the Supreme Court would do. The court’s instruction Oct 6. was: Proceed.

Schuette vs. the Image of God

IN 2006, A MAJORITY of Michigan voters amended their state constitution to outlaw the use of race in college admissions. Supporters of affirmative action challenged that amendment in court; in April, the U.S. Supreme Court (in a case known as Schuette vs. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action) affirmed Michigan’s right to ban the use of affirmative action by public universities.

Justice Sonya Sotomayor issued a 58-page dissent with a blistering critique of the court’s ruling. Sotomayor pointed out the illogic of the majority opinion that the case was about the voters’ right to self-governance. “This case,” she wrote, “is about how the debate over the use of race-sensitive admissions policies may be resolved ... that is, it must be resolved in constitutionally permissible ways.”

Sotomayor explained in her dissent that “by permitting a majority of the voters in Michigan to do what our Constitution forbids, the Court ends the debate over race-sensitive admissions policies in Michigan in a manner that contravenes constitutional protections long recognized in our precedents.” In other words, if we allow the majority to rule without limits, then affirmative action is effectively dead.

Prior to the 2006 vote, admissions policies were governed by institutions’ own governing boards. Citizens could influence admissions policy by utilizing the mechanisms within the political structure of the board, by lobbying board members, or voting them in or out in statewide elections. The 2006 vote changed the structure of Michigan politics.

University alumni could still lobby for policies that favor their legacy students. Parents of athletes or students in a particular area of study could still lobby board members directly to alter policies in their favor. But parents of minority students were banned from utilizing the same mechanisms for their children.

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Gun Victims, Erased from Our Memory

Photo courtesy of Charles Honey

The gun mural at Fountain Street Church, before erasure. Photo courtesy of Charles Honey

It didn’t take long to erase the gun.

Greg Bokor’s ArtPrize drawing of an assault rifle at Grand Rapids’ Fountain Street Church was rubbed out Sept. 21 after the public was invited to wield erasers imprinted with sorrow.

Normally festive art lovers obliterated the killing machine with erasers bearing the names of 83 massacred children and adults. They included Jesse Lewis, age 6, one of 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December; Veronica Moser-Sullivan, also 6, youngest of 12 people killed in the 2012 Aurora, Colo. movie-theater slaughter; and the 45 victims of the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech shootings.

Within hours, the public had rendered the AR-15 just a faintly visible image. It was a powerful symbol of what many of us would like to see happen to these weapons of death so easily available to mentally deranged people seeking sick revenge.

Tragically, in real life, it is the children and other victims who have been so easily erased from our consciousness.

Woe To Those Who Make Unjust Laws

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Union members rally at the Michigan State Capitol on Dec. 11. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

“We firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers for organizing.”

My brother bishops and I wrote that more than a quarter-century ago in our 1986 letter Economic Justice for All.  Regrettably, it rings true still today. 

The right-to-work legislation that was passed by the House and the Senate in Michigan just this month is designed to break unions. It is designed to prevent workers from organizing. And we must oppose it as firmly as we did during the 1980s. 

Mars Hill Bible Church Names Rob Bell’s Successor

Mars Hill Bible Church has appointed a new teaching pastor, months after founding pastor and well-known author Rob Bell departed for California.

In an email sent on Wednesday to members of the Grandville, Mich., church, leaders announced Kent Dobson had accepted the lead position.

Dobson served as a worship director in the church’s early days and has preached as a guest speaker in the months since Bell left. He is the son of Ed Dobson, pastor emeritus at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids.

Jim Wallis on "All-American Muslim": "These critics are nothing more than hate groups."

Many of All-American Muslim's critics seem to be upset that the Muslim folks featured on the show are not spending their time making bombs, planning attacks on their neighbors, or just screaming their hatred of America. The show, they fear, could give Americans the wrong impression: Muslim families are much like other American families, not secret terrorist dens plotting to infiltrate America with Sharia Law or attack us from within.
The critics are actually angry because no jihads are discussed around these Muslim family dinner tables and demonstrates to the rest of us that our Muslim neighbors are a lot like us.

The families in the show don't conform to distorted Muslim stereotypes that its critics had apparently hoped to see on All-American Muslim.
Well, too bad for them.

Rob Bell's Parting Epistle to Mars Hill: "Grace + Peace"

Rob Bell via MarsHill.org

Rob Bell via MarsHill.org

Editor's Note: Rob Bell, 41, the founding pastor of Mars Hill church in western Michigan, bid adieu to his congregation in a 5,000-word epistle about grace and peace, which he preached on Dec. 18 to thousands in the converted strip mall that has housed the "Jesus community" for a decade. He said, in part:

"this church, this place, this community, was once simply a

hunch. a dream. a vision. a picture in the mind of a new kind of church for the new world we find ourselves in. a church that was fearless in confronting the injustices and systems of oppression that lurk around every corner and at the very same time deeply committed to the personal, intimate experience of following Jesus, of experiencing the joy and peace that transcends space and time. a church that found the stale, old categories of liberal and conservative boring and irrelevant because we'd experienced resurrection, which includes and affirms anything and everything that brings liberating, new life wherever it's found irrespective of whatever labels and categories it's been given because of an abiding conviction that the

tomb is,

after all,


a church where the main thing was actually the main thing."