In a decision that is really not surprising to anyone who has been paying attention to the debate the governor of New Jersey signed a civil union bill today that institutes homosexual unions as legal in his state. This bill will grant such couples privileges such as adoption, inheritance, hospital visitation, medical decision-making and alimony rights. It passed the New Jersey legislature on December 14. The legislative action came about as a response to a state Supreme Court ruling in October. This makes New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont all states that now legally allow civil unions. Massachusetts allows gay couples to marry and California has a domestic partnership arrangement that brings with it full marriage rights.
In spite of various state actions, via ballot initiatives, this trend will likely continue, at least in the more blue states. When some homosexual activists responded negatively to today’s action, saying that they still want marriage for all, the governor of New Jersey made it clear that he believes this will come only when society changes so as to allow acceptance more broadly. I have been saying for some time that there is very little indication that things will not keep moving in this direction over the long term. If 90% of people in America have sex before marriage, as reported two days ago, then why would you expect most of these same people to hold to a high view of chastity in other areas as the social forces continue to have their full impact upon our culture?
My question for Christians and churches, in the light of these social trends, is quite simple: "How will we respond when ‘no’ is no longer the legal response of our society?" Put another way, "Is the missional mandate of Jesus so connected to this issue that we will have no message to speak publicly, except harsh condemnation, when this issue becomes mainstreamed?" We seem unable to separate moral clarity on this issue from love for people; liberal, conservative heterosexual or homosexual.
It seems to me that the church is caught in a huge tension with regard to this issue. Many run to one side or the other in order to escape the tension. We must promote chastity and biblical marriage on the one side. We also need to promote kindness, tenderheartedness and love for all, regardless of their "sexual identity." Our doctrine of God is involved in this struggle and most of us tend to project our emotions into that doctrine. As a result we express our doctrine of God in either moral fuzziness ("Why can’t we all just get along?") or emotional anger ("God hates fags!"). Again, we need the wisdom of the ancient church and the perspective of the emerging generation to help us think though this with much more care.