The Gay Marriage Mandate?
Have Americans started to accept gay marriage, and what does it mean for the church?

It isn't news to anyone that Americans' views about gay marriage is shifting. Last month three states decided by popular vote to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, and now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear two pivotal cases about gay marriage which could settle the legal issue in the U.S. for good.

Do these political victories, however, signal a shift in the views of the general population? According to a new set of polls by USA Today/Gallup that appears to be the case. 53% of Americans now support extending the same legal rights to married gay couples. Among 18-29 year olds, the support rises to 73 percent. Only one age group, those over 65, retain a majority who do not favor same-sex marriage. This fact led conservative commentator George Will to say, "Opposition to gay marriage is literally dying."

Among the minority who still oppose same-sex marriage, most cite religion as the reason. This raises many important questions for the church.

First, many evangelical churches and denominations are struggling to engage younger Americans. With the gay-rights/gay-marriage issue being overwhelmingly settled for those under 30, will the church's continued opposition to same-sex marriage end any chance of reaching these younger Americans?

Second, as more Americans and more states support gay marriage, how will the courts and the population respond to religious institutions that do not? In other words, how will the extension of rights to gay Americans impact religious liberty?

Third, even for those churches and denominations that do not change their theological understanding of marriage and sexuality, how will they adjust their discussion of these issues? Last week the Mormons drew attention to changes on their website about homosexuality. The Church of Latter-Day Saints say they have not changed their convictions about homosexual behavior, just how they are talking about it.

Should the recent election results and the polls be interpreted as a mandate for gay marriage? If it is, how should churches respond? Obviously many churches are not going to suddenly begin affirming gay marriage, but will Christian leaders still publicly and politically oppose government and social acceptance of it? Is the missional cost to opposition just too high? Can the church afford to alienate younger people, or is failure to speak out in opposition to same sex marriage a slippery-slope to wider relativism within evangelicalism?

For more analysis of the USA Today/Gallup polls, I suggest reading this article by Susan Page.

December 10, 2012