by Monte Sahlin

By AT News Team, October 6, 2014

Monday the United States Supreme Court announced a decision to turn down appeals from five states where lower courts have cleared the way for same-sex marriage. A total of 30 of the 50 states now allow same sex marriage, placing the position of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in conflict with what is fast becoming the norm for Americans.

The top court for the country has decided not to review rulings against laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Wisconsin, a surprising decision that shows the court is comfortable with the expansion of such unions throughout the nation. Canada and many countries in Europe have already legalized same-gender marriages while some African nations have recently strengthened laws against homosexuality.

The American court’s decision came without explanation and puts off a decision about the constitutionality of same-gender marriage that would apply to the entire nation. But it sent a clear signal that a majority of the justices do not feel the need to overturn lower court decisions that found state prohibitions were unconstitutional. Marriages had been on hold in the five states and can begin immediately.

Because freedom of religion is protected by the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, the decision does nothing to impinge the position of the Adventist denomination. It continues to be entirely legal for Adventist pastors to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages as required by denominational policy. And local churches continue to have the right to refuse to allow their facilities to be used for same-gender weddings in compliance with Adventist standards.

The decision will likely expand same-sex marriages to other states covered by the appeals courts that already have ruled that the bans are unconstitutional, including Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. “It is a watershed moment for the entire country,” said James Esseks, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Cultural liberals believe that the tipping point has been passed and "the battle is won" to permit same-sex marriage, but cultural conservatives point to a blip in a recent poll as evidence that the majority of Americans are not ready for this. Opponents of same-sex marriage said the fight is not over. “The court’s decision not to take up this issue now means that the marriage battle will continue,” said Byron Babione, a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been active in defending marriage prohibitions. “The people should decide this issue, not the courts.” Some of the laws against same-gender marriage that have been struck down by the courts were voted by a majority in general elections in some states.

There are cases on this subject in every state in the country. The Supreme Court could still take up the issue later this year after more states weigh in. The court in June 2013 struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had denied federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where it was legal. Although that decision did not touch on whether state bans were unconstitutional, a long line of federal court decisions have ruled since that the reasoning in the decision demands such a finding.

It takes only four votes to grant a review of lower court decisions. So that means at least one of the justices who previously voted against the concept was unwilling to force the court to take up the issue in these cases or at this time. Some of the justices who favor the concept that prohibitions of same-sex marriage are unconstitutional have said that the courts should move incrementally on such controversial social issues.

Adventist tradition has long had the notion of "testing truths," doctrines that are different from the social norms such as keeping the Sabbath by not working from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday when most of the Christian population only takes a couple of hours for church on Sunday. If this decision is the social marker that liberal commentators think it is, then Adventists in the United States will have a new "testing truth" in terms of how to relate to same-gender marriages.

Adventist Today has previously reported on an Adventist minister who participated in his daughter's same-sex wedding and was disciplined for it. Increasingly, American Adventists will be faced with decisions about whether to attend similar occasions involving their own adult children or other close relatives.

No major Adventist spokesperson has commented on this development so far. At least one independent ministry has announced an event where the featured speakers are "former homosexuals" who offer training in how to "lead gays to Christ." Heartland Institute has been at odds with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in the past, both publishing condemnations of the denomination and being the subject of critiques published by the denomination. It represents a Fundamentalist alternative for Adventists.

Some information in this story was found in the Washington Post, the major news operation in the capital of the United States.