I have received a couple of phone calls today from curious church members inquiring on what the practical benefits of today’s SCOTUS ruling will entail. Since gay couples will no longer be excluded from legally recognized marriages in all fifty states, what does that mean for the individuals?
Well, first and probably foremost, in the years of debating, marching, pleading, raising awareness, and all the rest for gay marriage advocates was the motivation to simply be legally recognized as the spouse of their partner. The hashtag on twitter for those celebrating the decision is #lovewins. As I said to one church member, you don’t see many hashtags that say, #finallywehaveallourfederalandstatebenefits. That is, of course, not to say that a leveling of the playing field for federal and state incentives and benefits for marriage were not extraordinarily important for gay marriage proponents, but in the case of the lead plaintiff, James Obergefell, the primary motivation was one of recognition – he wanted to be listed on his partner’s death certificate. So that, I think, is the great cause for celebration among most gay couples.
But there is definitely more, and the full range of implications for how the LGBT community will benefit from this ruling will not be completely understood until the issues are met head on from this point forward. There are some things we do know…
Family law attorneys are currently raising their hourly rates by triple because today’s ruling will impact the important issues of adoption and custody rights. This is pretty obvious. Gay and lesbian couples are particularly interested in the way their legally recognized marriage will impact family law because they will be relying on the adoption and foster care system to provide the opportunity for raising a child. I’m far from an expert, but it seems to me that there will still be significant and confusing issues at play in how the family law concerns work out, but today’s ruling certainly helps gay couples.
Another immediately impacted issue is that of estate planning. Gay couples will be looking to see benefits upon death or disability of their spouse, including the government benefits of a military spouse who is killed in combat. Included in this are things that we might not immediately consider, such as preparing wills and trusts, and even planning a funeral. Add to this the financial issues of social security, tax benefits, and employee benefits, and the changes that are coming are widespread. Now, the 2013 SCOTUS decision in U.S. v. Windsor striking down the Defense of Marriage Act already provided some federal benefits to same sex couples that had previously been restricted to heterosexual marriages. So, some of the implications of today’s gay marriage ruling were already covered by the 2013 ruling. But this certainly opens the door wider and brings in the various benefits and privileges at the state level that were still untouched by Windsor.
Then there are endless circumstances where today’s ruling will have an impact, such as college married housing, community organizations and clubs, and so on.
Of course, as a believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I believe there is no immediate benefit for gay couples from this decision, but only immediate harm that will impact them and millions of Americans. More than ever, the church must rise up to the most important command of our Lord – to love God and love neighbor.
The church will be immediately impacted as well, but certainly not in the areas of the gospel. Churches will need to be diligent to make sure they have prepared themselves spiritually and practically for the various sexual orientation lawsuits that are certain to begin arriving in our communities. But there is nothing to fear and no need to panic. God is still God and the gospel still saves. As it pertains to those things, today’s ruling has no impact. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.
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