The Fight for Marriage

Church Conflicts and Courtroom Contests

By William L. Harbison, Phillip F. Cramer Available
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Unique perspectives from Christian attorneys on the front lines of the U.S. Supreme Court battle for marriage equality.

For leaders in governments and in churches, marriage equality is the most contentious civil-rights dispute in the 21st century. During an era where nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, same-gender couples now have the federal civil right to marry, too. At a time when 62 percent of Americans approve of same-gender marriage, according to June 2017 Pew Research, churches are having to come to terms with whether to recognize and affirm these faithful partnerships as sacred covenants.

Attorneys Harbison and Cramer, faithful and active members of a United Methodist congregation, brought one of the cases to the US Supreme Court, which resulted in the 2015 landmark decision that permits persons of the same gender to marry. They bring a unique legal and cultural perspective to the controversy.

For the three couples Harbison and Cramer represented, marriage is not an "issue" to be resolved. Marriage is rather a sign for these couples of their faithful promise to love each other until they depart this life. "Each couple married for several reasons, including their commitment to love and support one another, to demonstrate their mutual commitment to their family, friends, and colleagues, and to show others that they should be treated as a family. They also married to make a legally binding mutual commitment, to join their resources together in a legal unit, and to be treated by others as a legal family unit, rather than as legally unrelated individuals. Finally, each couple married so that they could access the legal responsibilities of marriage to protect themselves and their families, just as heterosexual couples do." Aleta A. Trauger, Federal Judge

With a first-hand account of the respectful courtroom drama concerning marriage in American communities and states, Harbison and Cramer show why states care about marriage, why the church got involved in marriage more than a thousand years after Jesus's earthly ministry, and how the church and the state function in partnership to foster the purposes and social benefits of marriage.

About the Authors

William L. Harbison

William L. Harbison works in corporate law and with trusts and estates. He graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School. He served as President of the Tennessee Bar Association and Nashville Bar Association. He is a Member of the Tennessee Supreme Court Board of Law Examiners and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. He is selected by the Tennessee Supreme Court to serve on the Board of Professional Responsibility Advisory Committee. Harbison is an active member of Nashville's Belmont United Methodist Church.

Phillip F. Cramer

Phillip Cramer specializes in plaintiff’s recovery cases and other litigation in the areas of antitrust, insurance coverage, false claims, property rights, and complex business disputes. He graduated with highest honors from the Vanderbilt University Law School. He represents clients in high profile civil rights cases, having brought cases to vindicate immigrant rights, women’s rights, voting rights, privacy rights, and marriage equality. Previously, Cramer worked as a trial attorney in the Honors Program of the Department of Justice, Antitrust Division. He is an active member of Nashville's Belmont United Methodist Church where he serves as chair of the Administrative Board.