How Same-Sex “Marriage” Threatens Religious Liberty

In this blog, I have often noted that the re-definition of marriage would threaten the religious liberty of those persons and institutions that uphold the authentic definition of marriage as one man and one woman.

Same-sex “marriage” advocates scoff at this, and claim that their bill contains an exemption for clergy who do not wish to solemnize same-sex “marriages”, and that this should allay any fear that the re-definition of marriage will infringe upon religious freedom.

The reality is that this “exception” is meaningless — the First Amendment would never permit the state to force clergy to engage in religious rites that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

The real threat to religious liberty from re-defining marriage is that these bills fail to include an exemption that would permit individuals and organizations to decline to recognize same-sex “marriages” in other contexts, beyond religious ceremonies.   Without a genuine religious liberty exception in the law, same-sex “spouses” will be able to bring complaints against religious institutions, businesses, and individuals under various state and local anti-discrimination and human rights laws — none of which were ever envisioned as applying to same-sex “marriage”.

If marriage is re-defined, religious organizations will inevitably face threats to their liberties in these areas:

  • Public grants and contracts — State law requires that no organization that receives funds under a state contract or grant may discriminate on the basis of marital status — which would include a same-sex couple, if marriage is re-defined.  As a result, many Catholic institutions — all our hospitals and social service agencies, and maybe even include Catholic schools that receive state textbook or technology aid — could lose state contracts, and may be forced to close their doors as a result of their refusal to recognize same-sex “marriages”.  This has already happened to adoption and foster care agencies in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, and is being considered in Illinois and Virginia.
  • Employment — There is a very narrow exemption in current state anti-discrimination laws that permits religious organizations to hire those of the same faith or those who will promote their religious mission.  There is a similar narrow exemption under federal law, called the “ministerial exemption”, but the extent of this is currently being challenged before the Supreme Court.  These exemptions do not apply to a large number of positions at religious organizations, such as administrative staff.  As a result, churches and religious organizations would be required to hire people in same-sex “marriages” — and provide them with the same benefits they provide to spouses.
  • Professional Licenses — There are approximately 49 professions that require state licenses (e.g., lawyers, doctors, and nurses).  The state may seek to revoke the license of anyone who “discriminates” against a same-sex “marriage” couple. Students in professional training programs have already been threatened with the denial of licenses for failing to recognize same-sex “marriages”.
  • Business Permits — There are approximately 434 types of businesses that require state licenses or permits.  State licenses are also required for health clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, educational institutions, and social services agencies.  These businesses may see their licenses at risk if they “discriminate” against same-sex “marriage” couples.
  • Education — Health and family life education, which are required by the state, will be adjusted to include the recognition of same-sex “marriage”.  Parents of public school children have only limited rights to opt their children out of these classes.  In other countries, efforts have been made to require religious schools to teach messages about homosexuality that are contrary to their religious mission.
  • Tax Exempt Status — Religious and other non-profit organizations are typically granted tax exempt status, freeing them from the burden of income, property and sales taxes.  The United States Supreme Court has already held that such a tax ruling may be revoked if the organization’s religious beliefs and practices violate “public policy”.  This has already happened to a Methodist organization that declined to recognize same-sex “marriages”.
  • Exclusion from Public Facilities — Religious and other organizations that decline to recognize same-sex “marriages” may be denied access to public facilities for events, such as parklands, campgrounds, public message boards to announce events, etc. This has already happened to the Boy Scouts.
  • Proponents of same-sex “marriage” often accuse us of fear-mongering, and of over-stating these threats to liberty.  But prominent legal scholars — both supporters and opponents of same-sex “marriage” — have recognized the inevitable conflict between same-sex “marriage” laws and the religious liberties of organizations and individuals.

    One of the fundamental principles of religious liberty is that people should not be excluded from ordinary participation in civic life, or from receiving benefits or privileges from the government, merely because of their beliefs. Without a robust provision recognizing the right to decline to recognize same-sex “marriage” based on one’s religious beliefs, re-defining marriage will begin a long, costly and difficult legal struggle in courts and “human rights commissions”, with a steady and irreversible decline in religious liberty.

    For information about what you can do to prevent this, please check out the Family Life/Respect Life Office website.

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    2 Responses to “How Same-Sex “Marriage” Threatens Religious Liberty”

    1. Kevin Donohue says:

      What about members of the clergy of all faiths who see it as a violation of their religious freedom that they are prohibited from officiating at pan-gender marriages? So, in addition to defining ‘authentic’ (‘traditional’, whatever) marriage, you have arrogated to yourselves the right to define religion, to declare what beliefs are ‘authentic’ and which aren’t? Yours is the true, the only ‘authentic’ religious voice? Don’t you see a contradiction between your arrogant hubris and what you purport to believe?

    2. Ed Mechmann says:

      You are free to believe whatever you like, according to the dictates of your conscience and the doctrines of your religious community. So am I.

      As for the legal definition of marriage, however, nobody has the right to re-define it into something that it is not.

      The laws of every state until 2003 recognized marriage as only one man, one woman. Thirty-one times the issue has gone to the voters of the United States, and every time the voters have re-affirmed the definition of one man, one woman. The laws of forty-five states and the federal government still maintain that definition. Virtually all of the nations of the world adhere to that definition.

      For what it’s worth, the great majority of religious groups also holds to the one man, one woman definition. That is a recognition not just of God’s will, but of the natural law as well.

      So, no, I don’t see it as “arrogance” to affirm this definition of marriage in the law as “authentic”. I see it as recognizing natural law and reality.