Christian leaders reacted with both joy and sadness on Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings seen as boosting civil same-sex marriages in the United States.
The rulings stop short of declaring such marriages as a right in all states.
In one case, the U.S. Supreme Court on struck down by a vote of 5 to 4 a part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which denied federal benefits to same-sex spouses that it offered to opposite-sex spouses.
These included filing joint tax returns and insurance benefits for government employees. After the ruling, benefits will only apply to same-sex couples legally married in the 12 of 50 states where the marriages are valid.
In the second case marked by a more technical ruling, the Court decided by a vote of 5 to 4 that supporters of Proposition 8 in California did not have "standing" to defend the measure in federal court.
Proposition 8 was a 2008 measure approved by voters in California that said only marriage between a man and a woman was recognized in the state. At the time, the voter-imposed ban froze new same-sex marriages legalized by the state's Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court said Wednesday that private parties do not have the standing to defend a voter-approved measure to ban gay and lesbian couples from state marriages. The ruling means that same-sex marriages in California can resume.
Christian Leaders' Reactions
The Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral said the rulings "announce a new era for our country, one in which married lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans can finally enjoy the same federal recognition and protection that our laws have for so long extended to their fellow citizens."
"I rejoice in the knowledge that the justices have reached a decision that makes our union – indeed all our unions – more perfect and certainly more equal," the Episcopal church priest said. "Today's rulings advance civil marriage equality, but they should also serve as a call for Christians to embrace religious marriage equality.
"If we use this historic moment to see more clearly how their faithfulness contributes to the common good, we will better be able to walk with our LGBT sisters and brothers as an act of Christian faith."
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the decision to strike down part of DOMA, as the marriage act is known, was a "profound injustice," noting it as "tragic day for marriage and our nation."
"The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so," the Catholic bishop said.
The bishop also said it was "unfortunate" the court did not uphold Proposition 8 by not ruling on it.
"The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage. Now is the time to redouble our efforts in witness to this truth," Rev. Dolan said.
Jeffrey Kuan, president-elect of Claremont School of Theology said after the decision it was a "landmark day in the history of our nation and the global struggle for human rights."
The Institute on Religion & Democracy, a socially conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank issued a statement in support of traditional marriage.
"Regardless of court rulings, churches and others, now more than ever, must defend and strengthen traditional marriage," said Kristin Rudolph, IRD Evangelical Program Coordinator.
"U.S. Christians have three options," she said. "They can yield to the trends devaluing marriage. Or they can admit defeat in society but try to maintain traditional teachings inside the church. Or they can swim against the current and insist that both church and society must uphold marriage. We believe that only this last option is faithful to the Scriptures and conducive to the long-term good of society."
The Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church said she welcomed the decision striking down DOMA, noting that her own church is in the process of studying the "nature of Christian marriage."
Her church recently approved a temporary rite of blessing for same-sex couples which stops short of letting ministers perform same-sex marriages.
Jefferts Schori noted, however, that the church has taken the position that the government should not "create constitutional prohibitions that deny full civil rights and protections to gay and lesbian persons."
She said that while civil marriage equality in some U.S. states reflects the will of the people in the those states "the Court's withholding of judgment on the ultimate constitutional question of whether a state may ban same-sex marriage reflects the fact that this conversation will continue to evolve in coming years."
The Episcopal leader added that people holding differing views could work together.