Court overturns Texas ban on gay marriage

The ruling draws strong reaction from the faith community and political activists on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue.

By Ken Camp

A federal judge overturned Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage Feb. 26, saying it denies gay couples equal protection under the law.

The judge’s preliminary injunction prohibits the state from enforcing a 2003 law against same-sex unions and a 2005 amendment to the Texas Constitution that defines marriage exclusively as involving one man and one woman. However, he stayed that order pending appeal.

“Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution,” U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled.

Since the marriage amendment to the Texas Constitution denies homosexual couples the right to marry, it “demean[s] their dignity for no legitimate reason,” Garcia wrote.

“Equal treatment of all individuals under the law is not merely an aspiration — it is a constitutional mandate,” he wrote. “Consequently, equal protection is at the heart of our legal system and is essential for the existence of a free society.”

Gov. Rick Perry denounced the ruling, saying the state will appeal the court’s decision.

“Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and woman in our constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens,” he said.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican candidate for governor, announced the state would appeal the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled over and over again that states have the authority to define and regulate marriage,” Abbott said. “The Texas constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman. If the 5th Circuit honors those precedents, then today’s decision should be overturned and the Texas constitution will be upheld.”

Strong reaction

The ruling drew strong reaction from the faith community and political activists on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue.

The court ruling “is a cause for great concern,” said Gus Reyes, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.

“It reflects a trend in our society, but it is one which troubles many Texas Baptists because it goes against biblical teachings regarding marriage and sexual behavior. In past annual meetings, Texas Baptists have consistently expressed a conviction that marriage is to be between a man and a woman,” Reyes said.

“Texas Baptists surely respect the rights of all individuals, but society also has the right to sanction some behaviors and to limit others because of the impact our individual lives have on the broader community. Our society has supported marriage between a woman and a man because it provides the natural means of parenting each new generation. We continue to pray that God will give wisdom to leaders as decisions are made regarding this issue.”

In contrast, Larry Bethune, pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin and a founding member of the board of directors for the Texas Freedom Network, praised the ruling as “historic both for religious freedom and civil liberties.”

“It respects the religious freedom of many congregations, like my own, that have been blessing same-sex unions for several years,” he said. “Moreover, marriage equality acknowledges the worth and dignity of all families under the law, as well as in our faith tradition.”

In 1998, the Baptist General Convention of Texas executive board voted to decline any financial contributions from University Baptist Church — essentially cutting its ties with the church — after the congregation ordained an acknowledged homosexual as a deacon.

‘Neither surprised nor defeated’

“While our culture is clearly moving away from biblical marriage, God is neither surprised nor defeated,” said Jim Denison, founding president of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture.

“As Christians, we should be reminded that homosexual activity is not the unpardonable sin. God loves gay people just as much as he loves straight people. His truth still sets us free. And reality does not change when we redefine it.”

Denison took issue with the judge’s assertion that a ban on same-sex marriage “has no relation to legitimate government purpose.”

“Enforcing the will of the people is a ‘legitimate government purpose,’” said Denison, former pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas and BGCT theologian-in-residence.

He questioned whether the same logic that allows gay marriage could be used to justify government sanction for other types of unions.

“If ‘marriage’ without restrictions is a right, why should it be limited to adults? Why should it be forbidden to polygamous relationships or marriage within families? Nowhere does the constitution grant the ‘right to marriage.’ However, the First Amendment clearly protects freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. If same-sex marriages are made legal, will churches be forced to perform them? Will religious organizations be forced to provide benefits for them?” he asked.

Denison disputed assertions that all opponents of same-sex marriage are bigoted.

“All sex outside of marriage, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is unbiblical. God wants each of us to experience his abundant life. The One who made us knows that living by his word with regard to sexual activity is best for us,” he said.

Evan Wolfson, founding president of Freedom to Marry, called the court’s decision “solid and serious,” and Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, insisted the ruling “sends a powerful message that gay and lesbian Texans are being harmed by inequality.”

Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, decried the ruling as “the most egregious form of judicial activism of our generation.”

“This hollow victory and clear attack on morality and the rule of law will not stand in Texas,” he said. “This is just the beginning of an epic battle that the Texas people will ultimately win in the name of the one true and lawful definition of marriage — one man and one woman.”