Ted Olson, the Bible and the Constitution


The federal trial of Perry vs. Schwarzenegger began last week in a San Francisco courtroom. Many have been amazed to discover that George W. Bush’s former Solicitor General, Ted Olson is leading this challenge to the constitutionality of Prop 8, California’s ban on marriage for two men or two women.

The developments during the first days of the trial left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, Prop 8 supporters were able to thwart public viewing of the proceedings on YouTube and courthouse telecasts — a lost opportunity for our national conversation on marriage. Nevertheless, the Courage Campaign is providing real-time updates on the trial, which you can follow at

And then there was the Newsweek cover story last week by Ted Olson titled “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage.” It is a clear statement that might be better called “American” than conservative.

While he never once mentions the Bible, Olson helped me see more clearly some important connections between faith, citizenship, GLBT people and marriage.

In the United States of America, the foundation for civil marriage cannot rest upon the Bible or on any other religious ground. Our ancestors were religious people and all of them, from Abigail Adams to John Witherspoon (a Presbyterian minister who signed the Declaration of Independence), deliberately chose NOT to build the state upon the Bible, but rather upon the Constitution. Indeed, one of the central protections in our Constitution, separation of church and state (which has helped religion flourish in our country), prohibits religious grounds for legal constructs, like marriage, in our society.

Olson also notes the lack of any good argument against allowing GLBT people to participate in the civil contract of marriage. GLBT people have shown ourselves to be good citizens, good workers, good neighbors, good parents, good Christians, good Jews, good people. And the right to marry is so fundamental that the courts have protected it even for convicts in prison. It seems the only argument left standing in our culture is “the Bible tells me so.”

To faithful people whose Bible tells them that GLBT people are an abomination, Olson makes this strong point:

“Even those whose religious convictions preclude endorsement of what they may perceive as an unacceptable ‘lifestyle’ should recognize that disapproval should not warrant stigmatization and unequal treatment.”

Here Olson calls us to our better selves. And in the end, the reason that we, faithful people, need to heed Olson’s advice is, of course, the Bible. Matthew 7:1-5, 1 John 4:7-9 and Acts 10:5-16 come to mind, just for a start. This is where the Bible belongs: teaching us how to be, not insisting upon our own way for others’ lives before God.

Through this court case, lawyers like Olson remind us that the Constitution requires us, as Americans, to protect GLBT persons’ right to civil marriage. For my part as a Christian, it is just as important that the Bible teaches us to treat others with fairness and compassion — all others, no exceptions.

So to me it is clear: marriage between two men or two women, mature in their loving commitment to one another and desiring to pledge their faith before witnesses, is fully in the spirit of the Bible and the Constitution.


Reverend Janet

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