I do not favor secession and civil war over the issue of same-sex marriage. If that makes me a left-wing, progressive, liberal, pinko, Commie sell-out in your eyes, then so be it.
Since I do not favor secession and civil war over the issue of same-sex marriage, once the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled to mandate legalization of same-sex marriage in every state (and that’s coming soon), I believe that every state should come into compliance with the dictates of the Court. Judge Roy Moore and all the other judges in Alabama must do precisely that—must abide by whatever decision the Supreme Court may reach. If they are not prepared to come into compliance with federal law at that point, then the honorable thing for them to do is to resign their offices.
I hold this position because there are no other options besides (a) abiding by the rulings of the Supreme Court of the United States, or (b) secession and civil war. I don’t know of a third option that doesn’t boil down to empty and pointless theatrics (forcing somebody to fire them from their offices rather than resigning from them, for example).
Not that I think that theatrics are always empty and pointless. Theatrics can be an important enhancement to an organized pragmatic effort to accomplish civil change. The Boston Tea Party was an important prelude to the American Revolution, but only because the people who accomplished it were ready to…you know…launch the American Revolution. Theatrics were an important part of the civil rights movement, but only because there was a cogent legislative and litigative agenda behind it to take advantage of the theatrics and accomplish something substantive alongside them.
There’s precisely nothing like that lined up behind any protest by Alabama judges. Nobody is prepared to engage in armed revolt over this, I hope. Litigation is the cause of the conflict, and once the Supreme Court rules, there will be no hope for an immediate reversal in the realm of litigation. The only legislative hope would be to pass a Constitutional Amendment at the federal level, which would require both the successful accomplishment of a joint resolution of both houses of Congress and ratification by thirty-eight of the fifty states.
That’s not going to happen.
Of course, the Supremes have not yet ruled definitively on same-sex marriage. Justice Moore claims that federal law is not yet unambiguously settled in Alabama and that Alabama judges have, for the moment, the legal wiggle-room to refuse to officiate same-sex marriages. I think it’s fine for him to hold out just as long as he possibly can. But once the Supreme Court has ruled, I believe that those legal officials whose consciences will not permit them to comply with the Court’s ruling have no choice but to step away from their positions.
A lot of Christian judges and JPs are going to face very difficult questions once the Supreme Court rules. I feel a great deal of compassion for them. If I were in that position, I would resign before I would perform a same-sex marriage. But remaining in office and defying the Supreme Court of the United States is not an option.
Because I believe all of these things, I agree with what Russell Moore has said this week. Here’s the full quote, by the way (including the portions that did not make the Baptist Press story):
The citizens of Alabama are rightly concerned about the non-action–action by the United States Supreme Court in refusing to stay same-sex marriages in the state until the Court hands down its decision this June on the matter. The same Court that ruled in 2013 that marriage should be a state, not a federal matter, is now imposing a federal definition of marriage on a state. I suspect that Justice Thomas is right in saying that the Court is signaling where they want to go on marriage.
As citizens and as Christians, our response should be one of both conviction and of respect for the rule of law (1 Peter 2:13; Romans 13). Our system of government does not allow a state to defy the law of the land.
In a Christian ethic, there is a time for civil disobedience in cases of unjust laws. That’s why, for instance, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. went to jail. In the case of judges and state Supreme Court justices, though, civil disobedience, even when necessary, cannot happen in their roles as agents of the state. Religious freedom and conscience objections must be balanced with a state’s obligation to discharge the law. We shouldn’t have officials breaking the law, but civil servants don’t surrender their conscience simply by serving in government. While these details are being worked out, in the absence of any conscience protections, a government employee faced with a decision of violating his conscience or upholding the law, would need to resign and protest against it as a citizen if he could not discharge the duties of his office required by law in good conscience.
Given the high bar required for civil disobedience, the way to address same-sex marriage in this circumstance is not by defying the rule of law, but by making our case before the legitimate authorities. If we lose, our responsibility is to advocate as citizens for our views, even if that project is (as in the case of the pro-life movement) a long-term project, while we work for our constitutional guarantees of freedom of conscience and religious liberty.
There’s no option here of rolling over and playing dead. It’s just that it is easy to see the difference between deliberative long-term planning that will advance a movement and short-term histrionics that will only advance personalities. We’re about to find out whether we really believe the truth of Hebrews 11:25, that the pleasures of sin are temporary. An opportunity will come down the line when the bitter realities of our country’s rebellion against God are settling in. At that point, when the tide turns against this radical social experiment, conservatives will need to be ready to move forward when it is possible to achieve legislative victories (or even to see court rulings that overturn the adverse ruling that is coming).
So, I agree with Russell Moore and disagree with Roy Moore because I prefer accomplishment to grandstanding. I think they’re both morally correct; it’s just that I think that only one of them is strategically wise.