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Fortnight for Freedom, Day 5: How are marriage and religious liberty connected?

Marriage (the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife) and religious liberty are two distinct goods that are also related to each other.

Marriage and religious liberty are both goods in their own right, meaning that both deserve our care and protection. The Church does not promote and defend marriage simply out of a concern for possible consequences to religious freedom if marriage were redefined. As said elsewhere on the website, “Marriage must be protected for its own sake, and not just for the sake of preserving religious liberty.” Marriage contributes greatly to the common good and is worth protecting, period.

The protection of each good follows from the duty to protect the inviolable dignity of the human person.

The Church’s teaching on marriage and on religious liberty both find their roots in Christian anthropology, that is, the understanding of the human person and his or her dignity. Concerning marriage, upholding the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman upholds human dignity by, among other things, honoring the uniquely complementary natures of man and woman, their capacity for union and fruitfulness, and the child’s birthright of being given the best chance to know and be raised by his own father and mother. Concerning religious liberty, as was said in a previous post, man’s ability – and responsibility – to seek truth and conform his life to it necessitates religious freedom. In fact, Bl. Pope John Paul II saw religious freedom as so important to human dignity that he called it the “source and synthesis” of rights basic to human flourishing (Centesimus Annus, no. 47). Concern for the human person means concern for marriage, and for religious liberty.

But even more directly, the legal protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman also protects the religious freedom of those who adhere to that vision of marriage.

More on this later. Suffice it to say that changing the legal definition of marriage will have – and already has had – a direct effect on the ability of persons and institutions who hold a definition of marriage other than that of the state to “live in the truth of [their] faith,” as Bl. John Paul II put it.

Answer from: Marriage & Religious Liberty FAQ #2

Next: How could changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?

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4 responses to “Fortnight for Freedom, Day 5: How are marriage and religious liberty connected?”

  1. Rich says:

    Your next post, if it appears, will, I hope, truly address the religious liberty implications for gay marriage. I say this as a supporter of gay marriage. I have yet to see an actual example put forth of religious liberty adversely affected by two gay people getting married. If you propose that the religious liberty of a businessperson (Innkeeper as an example), might be in peril then I want you to not ignore the civil rights protections that are current law just about everywhere and protect sexual orientation. These laws have been around for many years and they were never an issue until gay marriage came around. And don’t forget, religious liberty applies to the many other religious denominations that want to solemnize gay marriages.

  2. Greg B. says:

    The claim that if civil laws vary from your particular brand of religion, your religious freedom is being infringed upon is absurd. The U.S. Constitution guarantees you the freedom to worship as you choose. It does not guarantee that you will live in a country free from anything and everything that conflicts with your worldview. Your attempts use religious liberty to justify discrimination against gay couples is bogus and has no solid rational or legal basis to support it.

    • Marriage Unique for a Reason says:

      As explained in the first Fortnight for Freedom post, religious freedom is more than just “freedom to worship.” It also includes the guarantees, first, that people of faith may engage in public life without being forced to act against their beliefs, and second, that people of faith may form communities and organizations based on shared beliefs and be able to manifest those beliefs in their communal activity.

      When it comes to marriage law, the fact is that redefining marriage to include two persons of the same sex (something that contradicts both natural law and the teaching of many faith communities) will force (and has forced already) people of faith acting individually or communally to treat identically married husbands and wives and two persons of the same sex whom the state considers to be married. In other words, such a law would require people of faith to either violate their consciences or pay the penalty (fines, denial of accreditation, social stigma, etc.).

      The issue at stake, then, is not whether American civil law reflects identically the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Church recognizes the proper sphere of civil law as distinct from doctrine (no one is proposing, for example, that the law must enshrine the belief that marriage is a sacrament) but insists that civil law must be just, that is, in accord with the truth and dignity of the human person and natural law. As Aquinas said, lex injusta non est lex (an unjust law is no law at all).

      The real issue is whether the state will coerce people of faith to violate their consciences in order to participate in public society. What has been demonstrated recently is the state’s willingness to enforce its understanding of marriage to the extent of excluding all other understandings – even in situations where alternative agencies or individuals were more than willing to treat two persons of the same sex as a married couple. That, it seems, is real discrimination and intolerance.

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