The U.S. Supreme Court is ready to consider the issue of same-sex marriage, and the court's eventual ruling could affect how the State of Texas defines marriage. If change occurs, it will affect the relationship of all Texas Baptist churches in their dealings with local, state, and federal laws.
The Christian Life Commission supports the biblical definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman for a lifetime commitment. This has been the marriage standard for Christians dating back two millennia, and reflects an even longer biblical heritage.
On Tuesday, April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee involving same-sex marriage. The Court will decide whether the U.S. Constitution requires states to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and whether the Constitution requires a state to recognize a same-sex marriage performed out-of-state. The Court is expected to deliver an opinion before the end of its June session.
In August 2013, same-sex couples could legally marry in 13 states. Today, same-sex couples can legally marry in 37 states. Although Texas does not currently license a marriage between two people of the same sex, the Supreme Court may rule that the Constitution requires Texas to license same-sex marriages. Even if the Supreme Court does not require Texas to license same-sex marriages, it may require Texas to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed in another state. In short, the definition of marriage in Texas may soon change.
For many churches, a requirement that Texas license same-sex marriages is a cause of concern. As the Supreme Court considers these cases, it is a good time for churches to review their bylaws, constitution, policies, or any free-standing resolution adopted by church membership. Churches are not required to accept a federal definition of marriage, but many churches do not address marriage anywhere in their foundational documents. If your church is concerned about the use of church property/facilities for same-sex marriages or about ministers performing same-sex marriage ceremonies, it is important that your church provide a definition of marriage in its bylaws based on the church's religious beliefs. Consider the following sample definition for inclusion in church bylaws:
Marriage -- Marriage is a biblical institution established by God as described by Scripture. We believe biblical marriage can only occur between one man and one woman. This church recognizes that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. Accordingly, this church's pastors and staff will not officiate in same-sex unions or same-sex marriages, nor will its property or resources be used for such purposes.
It is important for churches to remember that any definition of marriage adopted by the church must be enforced uniformly. If a church cannot apply the language of its bylaws in a uniform manner, then the church should create definitions it can apply uniformly.
Regardless of whether a new definition of marriage in Texas is a concern for your church, it is important for every church to include a statement of the church's doctrinal beliefs in church bylaws.
For more information about the statement of religious beliefs and other essential elements of church bylaws click here.
We recommend you consult with legal counsel about your church's individual needs before amending your bylaws. Contact John Litzler, with the Christian Life Commission, about bylaw language that is specific to your church beliefs.