A statement from Bill Waddell, Counsel to the Council of Bishops
On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down state laws that bar same-gender couples from marriage on the same terms accorded to couples of the opposite sex. The decision contains the following statements concerning the rights of religious persons and organizations:
“Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”
“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
The question has been raised whether the decision alters our church law that prohibits United Methodist clergy from performing same-gender ceremonies pursuant to ¶ 341.6. Since the Supreme Court’s decision is directed at state laws that bar same-gender persons from marriage and not to clergy persons who may be prohibited by religious doctrine and church law from officiating at those ceremonies, my opinion is that the decision does not change the church law of the United Methodist Church. In addition, my opinion is that the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits any court from interfering with the doctrine and polity of the United Methodist Church regarding same-gender marriage or the regulation of its clergy in performing ceremonies that celebrate the unions of such persons. Thus, the decision has no effect on The Book of Discipline and the prohibition on the celebration of such marriages by our clergy.