Note: This story was updated at 11 a.m.
There was a range of reactions in Oak Ridge and across the state this week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision on Friday, June 26, that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. That decision made gay marriage legal in all 50 states.
Some said the decision made them proud to be Americans, while others worried about whether the country is straying from biblical values.
Melanie Heiberg and others celebrated the decision at the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church last Friday. Heiberg said she was raised by two dads—her father and his partner—when she was in high school.
“This is about equality,” Helberg said. “Everyone is as important as the next person.”
She said she wanted to celebrate the court’s decision. She views it as a victory for “seeing each person on this planet as an equal.”
Clinton resident Todd Waterman called it a “sea change.”
Now, Waterman said, “equal justice under the law actually means that.”
During the Friday celebration at the Unitarian Universalist Church, several people said that young children growing up in a world where the Supreme Court’s decision is the new normal won’t know any different.
But the four dissenting opinions were vitriolic, said Fred Holland, director of operations at the church and a former board member.
“We’ve still got work to do,” Holland said.
The Supreme Court’s divided decision was met with disapproval at Oak Ridge Alliance Chuch, where the pastor, the Reverend Dale Crank, put up a sign last week that read, “The Supreme Court is not supreme.”
Crank said he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (the same-sex marriage case) as well as one upholding certain health insurance subsidies through tax credits in King v. Burwell. That second case concerned the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare.”
“We have left the foundation of biblical values that really was the foundation of our society from the beginning,” Crank said Sunday, referring to the same-sex decision. “This ruling is evidence that we have left it.”
That foundation clearly calls for marriage to be between a man and a woman, Crank said.
He said the church is part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance and the National Association of Evangelicals. Crank forwarded a copy of the Alliance’s response to the Supreme Court ruling.
“I’m disheartened but not surprised by today’s Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality,” U.S. Alliance President John Stumbo said in that response. “The current trajectory of our nation is a steady walk away from historic Christianity and biblical teaching. Today’s ruling is yet one more marker on that dangerous trail.”
Quoting Matthew 19:4-6, the response said the Alliance holds the Scripture higher than human reasoning or courts. Members won’t get into shouting matches over the issues, and they should be gracious and compassionate to those who do not share their views on marriage, it said.
The Alliance said the Supreme Court’s decision changed the legal definition of marriage but not the “truth about marriage.” The new definition is “at variance with orthodox biblical faith as it has been affirmed across the centuries and as it is embraced today by nearly two billion Christians in every nation on earth,” the response said.
It said the Alliance’s clergy will not perform weddings that are contrary to this biblical standard under any circumstances.
“Those who continue to embrace biblical teaching on marriage will increasingly appeal to the First Amendment protection not just for abstract belief, but for the practice of their faith,” the response said.
Crank said the ruling doesn’t jeopardize his marriage to his wife, and it doesn’t prevent people of opposite sexes from marrying. But he suggested that the redefinition of marriage raises questions about how else it might redefined.
“When we play with the definition of marriage, we play with the foundation of our society,” Crank said.
Some opponents, who have said the question ought to be a states rights issue, have expressed concern about whether officials might be compelled to perform same-sex weddings. But several local officials said Tennessee law says officials may perform wedding ceremonies, but they are not compelled to—the language of the statute is “may” and not “shall,” they said. Legal analysts have said the Supreme Court decision prevents states from banning same-sex weddings but does not compel private parties to perform then.
Still, two state representatives—Bryan Terry, a Murfreesboro Republican, and Andy Holt, a Dresden Republican—announced last week that they are drafting a Tennessee Pastor Protection Act to “protect all religious clergy from performing same-sex marriages, as well as providing legal protection from being forced to perform same-sex marriages on church property.”
“If the issue is truly about equality of civil liberties and benefits, then this ruling should have minimal legal impact on churches,” Terry said. “However, if the issue and the cause is about redefining marriage to require others to change their deeply held religious beliefs, then the concerns of many will be valid.”
The Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church has announced plans to perform as many same-sex weddings as possible for free for a limited time, although it’s not clear if they’ve performed any yet.
“In the Book of Ruth, when Ruth tells Naomi, ‘Where you go, I will go; your people will be my people,’ people don’t get caught up with the gender,” said ORUUC Minister of Faith Formation Reverend Tandy Scheffler. “What they hear is love. What counts in this life is love. And at ORUUC, we are ready to bless public commitments of love between couples who’ve waited too long for the rights and honor denied to their families.”
The first Roane County couple, Brandy Horn and Ann Spencer, said they know that not everyone will accept their marriage, but they’re not asking for acceptance or approval. Instead, Horn said, they just want people to leave them alone.
“Everyone has their own beliefs,” Spencer said. “We’re not telling them what to believe. Don’t tell us that we can’t get married just because you don’t believe in it.”
David Allred, lead pastor at High Places Community Church in Oak Ridge, said he won’t officiate any same-sex weddings, but he will bake all the wedding cakes and offer all the heartfelt congratulations that he can.
“I was never called to be on the front end of ‘progressive’ Christian faith anymore than I was called to a nostalgic conservatism,” Allred said in a Facebook post on June 30. “My calling is more of one who stands in the gap, making sure that the best parts of conservative faith aren’t left behind in this process of Christian Reformation that is both inevitable and exciting. My calling is to love the past into the future. Because the wounds are deep, I won’t be joining my liberal friends on the front lines of performing ceremonies anytime soon. I will be applying salve in the back…Separate but equal never worked and now, it doesn’t have to anymore.”
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