(RNS) While Supreme Court justices engaged in contorted questioning, the verdict as rendered by wiser tests — known as “sniff” and “common sense” — was already in.
Gay marriage is a fact of life. Gay men and women have been forming partnerships for longer than anyone can remember. Those partnerships, while closeted until recently, have proven as durable and life-giving as heterosexual partnerships.
Even without the benefits of legal protection, gays and lesbians have found ways to follow their hearts, live together, create loving and welcoming homes and, more recently, to raise children to be all that they can be.
Some same-sex partnerships do join the 50 percent of heterosexual marriages that end in divorce. Some, like many straight partnerships, end up lifeless and sour. Death and grief touch gay unions, that’s as heart-breaking as that of any “legal” widow or widower.
Those who actually study child welfare say that children raised in same-sex homes turn out as healthy as children raised in heterosexual homes.
All around us, men are pairing off with men, women with women, men with women, and many not at all. In all households, the issue isn’t how intercourse occurs, but whether the householders are wise, loving, merciful, compassionate, able to listen, able to make good decisions, able to serve others, able to raise children, and able to make the world around them better.
Those attributes have to do with character, not sexuality. They require maturity and self-control. There is no reason to believe that these attributes are uniquely absent in a gay household, any more than they are uniquely present in a heterosexual household.
By any sniff test or common sense test, same-sex unions are no more or less likely to succeed or to be things of beauty.
The biblical argument against homosexuality is nonsense. It is based on a few verses of Scripture that are used as weapons, while many other verses regulating human behavior are ignored or subverted at will because they are inconvenient. Let’s start, for example, with the biblical prohibition against charging interest on loans.
The legal stakes are high in current Supreme Court deliberations. For one thing, money is in play here — federal benefits, estates and tax filing. Also at issue: recognition of marriage licenses issued by states. Some cautious church leaders are waiting for a legal resolution before they approve offering the sacrament of marriage to gays and lesbians.
The larger issue, it seems to me, is public respect. To the extent that the law confers respect, same-sex partnerships could gain or lose in these two Supreme Court cases.
But I wonder if, ultimately, the law has anything to do with respect. Respect comes from being worthy of respect. It comes from how we live, not from regulations.
We earn respect by how we treat other people; how we behave in the public square; how we serve the common good; how we pitch in when times are tough; how we stand up for the weak and insist on justice for all; and how we pursue lives devoted to something greater than self-serving and self-promoting.
We earn respect when we show up for work, follow through on commitments, tell the truth, help out with school fairs, build houses for others and protect children from danger.
Not a single one of those behaviors has anything to do with sexuality or with Supreme Court decisions.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)