By AT News Team, June 27, 2015:   Late yesterday the Adventist denomination responded to a decision announced earlier in the day by the United States Supreme Court that found laws against same-sex marriage to be a violation of human rights guaranteed by the constitution. A statement released by the official Adventist News Network (ANN) made two points:

(1) The denomination “maintains its fundamental belief that marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman [and] while [it] respects the opinions of those who may differ, it will continue to teach and promote its biblically based belief …

(2) “The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes that all people, regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation are God’s children and should be treated with civility, compassion, and Christ-like love.”

The Adventist denomination prohibits its clergy from conducting same-sex weddings, but unlike some other Evangelical denominations and congregations, it has not issued any rules or admonitions regarding the behavior of lay members in regards to their occupation or business, etc. For example, there is no rule prohibiting an Adventist who makes her living as a photographer from taking pictures for clients who have a same-sex wedding.

Adventists have an historic concern about religious liberty and some Catholic and Evangelical leaders have raised that concern in statements yesterday and earlier. Michael D. Peabody, an Adventist attorney in California who publishes the online newsletter Religious Liberty.TV addressed these concerns in his bulletin yesterday. In the Supreme Court ruling, in addition to requiring state governments to license and recognize same-sex marriages, “the Court also found that the First Amendment protects the right of religious organizations and ‘persons’ to ‘continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned,'” Peabody wrote.

He continued, quoting the court decision: “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.” (p. 27)

The decision addressed religious concerns, stating: “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied.”

Peabody’s analysis of the decision: “While the Court has determined that same-sex marriage is a national right, and simultaneously upheld the First Amendment right of religious or non-religious “persons” to speak (and even advocate) against same-sex marriage, the issue remains as to whether businesses, which now have First Amendment rights (see Burwell v. Hobby Lobby), and individuals have a right to discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to provide services or other benefits that they provide to opposite-sex couples.

“The right not to participate in same-sex marriages has been a subject of intense debate in recent months as some state legislatures have rushed to enact Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) in an effort to provide statutory protections for the rights of conscience of those who oppose same-sex marriage. The constitutionality of some state RFRAs and the rights of wedding service providers will be the subject of legal battles.

“The concept that religious institutions are exempt from following generally applicable laws on grounds of conscience would also seem to be supported by the Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC (2012).

“But while the dicta of the Supreme Court’s decision seems to provide some recognition of religious schools to teach against same-sex marriage, it does not address whether they could lose their tax exempt status if they enact policies that prohibit recognition of same-sex marriage in terms of student housing, hiring practices, and employment benefits. It is anticipated that the more religious an institution, the more likely it is to retain the right to discriminate against same-sex couples, but if tax-exempt status is considered a privilege and the schools receive governmental funding, the issues could become murky.”

Adventists in several other nations have already dealt with this development as same-sex marriage was legally recognized. The official teaching of the Adventist denomination on marriage is stated in a document voted by the officers of the General Conference on April 23, 1996. The entire document can be read here.