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Fortnight for Freedom, Day 6: How could changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?

Changing the legal term “marriage” is not one change in the law, but rather amounts to thousands of changes at once. The term “marriage” can be found in family law, employment law, trusts and estates, healthcare law, tax law, property law, and many others.

The fact that marriage is deeply embedded in so many aspects of society should come as no surprise to students of Catholic social teaching. Marriage is the foundation of the family, which is the “key cell” of society (CCC, no. 2207; see also CSDC, no. 209ff). Either by its presence or its absence, marriage touches many aspects of everyone’s lives, including aspects that are also regulated by various laws and policies.

These laws affect and pervasively regulate religious institutions, such as churches, religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals, and families.

Note that changes in marriage law will affect not only individuals, but also groups of individuals, i.e. institutions. As we saw in an earlier post, man’s social nature means that religious liberty applies not only to solitary believers but to believers worshiping, acting, and serving as a religious community. By the same token, changing marriage law will jeopardize the religious liberty of both individuals and communities or institutions: hospitals, adoption agencies, etc.

When Church and State agree on what the legal term “marriage” means (the union of one man and one woman), there is harmony between the law and religious institutions. When Church and State disagree on what the term “marriage” means (e.g., if the State redefines marriage in order to recognize so-called same-sex “marriage”), conflict results on a massive scale between the law and religious institutions and families, as the State will apply various sanctions against the Church for its refusal to comply with the State’s definition. Religious liberty is then threatened.

Legal experts on both sides of the marriage debate have agreed that changing the legal definition of marriage will have consequences for religious liberty. See, for example, the 2008 collection of essays in Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts. Co-editor of that volume and current Associate General Secretary of the USCCB Anthony Picarello has described the potential threats to religious liberty as “severe and pervasive.” Continuing, he added that redefining marriage “is going to affect every aspect of church-state relations…because marriage affects just about every area of the law” (“Banned in Boston,” p. 3). Regarding the “various sanctions” available for the State to use against the Church for disagreeing with its stated definition of marriage, we’ll discuss those in a forthcoming post.

(Answer in bold from: Marriage & Religious Liberty FAQ #3)

Next: A red herring…and the real threats to religious liberty

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One Response to “Fortnight for Freedom, Day 6: How could changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?”

  1. Ann McElhinney says:

    Well done. The articles are clear and professional. We need plenty of them, and they should reach many more people,

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