The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review state and federal legislation that currently limits the fundamental right to marry to heterosexuals. The court now has the opportunity to overturn these laws, and right a great wrong on discrimination because of sexual orientation.
Dramatic successes for marriage equality in the 2012 elections demonstrate how fast attitudes have been changing about marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. This success is due to both demographic changes and changes in societal attitudes toward being gay.
There is an argument to be made that there has been a need for cultural as well as religious momentum. As more and more faith groups support marriage equality today, for example, support for discrimination on marriage because of sexual orientation declines.
Practically speaking, these cultural and religious changes have been necessary. But from the perspective of what can be called “political holiness,” it is long past time for this wrong to be righted. Indeed, there is no argument from the standpoint of the “holy,” that is, from the standpoint of God’s justice over against human justice, that can ever justify discrimination against any human being or group merely for who they are.
In my faith perspective, as both a Christian pastor and theologian, human beings are created in the Image of God (Genesis 1:27) and that is the theological basis for opposing all forms of discrimination whether on gender, race, sexual orientation, national origin or class.
There will still be those who say anxiously, as the Supreme Court takes up these landmark cases, that the ‘country’s not ready.’ I hear this from those who are generally supportive of marriage equality for LGBT people as well, of course, from those who use delay as a softer way to get to “never.”
No. When it comes to basic equality as an aspect of holiness, no waiting is required.
“It is terribly important to realize that the leap of faith is not so much a leap of thought as of action. For while in many matters it is first we must see then we will act; in matters of faith it is first we must do then we will know, first we will be and then we will see. One must, in short, dare to act wholeheartedly without absolute certainty.”
It is certainly possible that the Supreme Court will not act “wholeheartedly,” but rule in these cases on “narrower grounds” instead. Indeed, when looked at from a practical standpoint, this is a likely outcome.
It is counter-intuitive and perhaps even inappropriate for the Supreme Court of the United States to act with a “holy impatience.”
But in another way, it is not. The Constitution is not only a body of laws; it is also a vision of a better world. When I was asked to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the appointment of Judge John Roberts to be chief justice, I used Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal words from the “I Have A Dream” speech on the national mall. King powerfully contended the Constitution was a “promissory note” on equality. The Constitution should be seen as a promise that one day that dream would become reality for all.
Advent, the four weeks before the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, is also a time of “holy impatience” as Christians wait, expecting, hoping, dreaming that the promise of God-with-us will be fulfilled.
Christianity’s “holy impatience” of Advent is a specific faith vision, of course, but it connects with the human spirit and its universal longing for a better world where human dignity is respected and justice reigns.
Now is the time for the Supreme Court to act, not wait, as the equality of the human spirit should not ever be denied.
Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress .