But would ministers really be forced to officiate at the “wedding” of two persons of the same sex?
This question is a red herring. In other words, it is a false caricature of the real concerns about religious liberty, and is actually used to distract from the real concerns. It is unlikely in the extreme that the State will force ministers and churches to officiate same-sex “marriage” ceremonies, although it is easily foreseeable that many church ministers and communities could be sued in court over this question. There are, however, other more probable and pervasive concerns.
Red herring (n): something intended to divert attention from the real matter at hand; a misleading clue. (Word buffs would be interested to know that this – literally – colorful phrase received its meaning from the supposed use of smoked fish by fugitives to put bloodhounds off the scent.) In this context, the “red herring” is the assertion that the threat to religious liberty by redefining marriage is that ministers would be forced to officiate at ceremonies contrary to their beliefs about marriage. While laws mandating churches to hold same-sex “weddings” have been passed or proposed in a few countries, so far this threat to religious liberty has not surfaced seriously in the United States. All the same, as the above paragraph states, it is “easily foreseeable” that litigation could commence against churches that continue refusing to host same-sex “weddings.” Only time will tell.
What’s the real threat to religious liberty posed by same-sex “marriage”?
The legal redefinition of marriage can threaten the religious liberty of religious institutions and individuals in potentially numerous ways, involving various forms of government sanction, ranging from court orders compelling action against conscience, to awards of money damages and other financial penalties, to marginalization in public life:
Note the open-ended phrase “potentially numerous” as a descriptor for how changing marriage law could affect religious liberty. Given the pervasiveness of marriage throughout the law (see earlier post), there is no way to know exhaustively exactly what religious liberty conflicts could occur where marriage is redefined.
The following is a categorization of sorts of the various types of religious liberty conflicts that could emerge as a consequence of marriage redefinition laws, with real-life examples.
Compelled Association: the government forces religious institutions to retain as leaders, employees, or members those who obtain legalized same-sex “marriage”; or obligates wedding-related businesses to provide services for same-sex “couples.”
Example: Christian organization in New Jersey found guilty of violating state’s nondiscrimination law for not permitting the civil union ceremony of two women on its property.
Compelled Provision of Special Benefits: the government forces religious institutions to extend any special benefit they afford to actual marriage to same-sex “marriage” as well.
Example: Catholic hospital in New York sued by employee for not providing health benefits to her female “spouse.”
Punishment for Speech: preaching, political action, or conversation reflecting moral opposition to same-sex “marriage” represents actionable “harassment” or “discrimination,” or forbidden “hate speech”.
Example: Consultant for California-based business fired for writing a book in which he argued against redefining marriage.
Exclusion from Accreditation and Licensure: those who adhere to the definition of marriage are excluded from participation in highly regulated professions and quasi-governmental functions, as licenses are revoked and religious institutions lose accredited status.
Exclusion from Government Funding, Religious Accommodations, and Other Benefits: those who adhere to the definition of marriage are excluded from receiving government grants and contracts to provide secular social services, and from various tax exemptions.
Example: Catholic Charities in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC have closed their adoption and foster care services because of laws that would require them to place children with same-sex couples.
Finally, Religious Liberty FAQ #6 lists several more examples of threats to religious liberty that have taken place over the last decade or so:
Have any of these threats come to pass?
Yes. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following: the extension of married student housing to same-sex “married” couples (a Catholic college in MA); the extension of spousal employment benefits to same-sex “domestic partners” (Catholic Charities in Portland, ME); the loss of funding and licenses to provide adoptions for refusal to place with same-sex couples (Catholic Charities in Massachusetts, DC, and Illinois); the imposition of tax penalties for preaching about marriage amendments (Montana); and the loss of state tax exempt status for a religiously-affiliated camp (New Jersey). These threats have been manifest in other countries as well, often to an even more persistent and invasive extent.
Regarding the last sentence’s mention of “persistent and invasive” threats to religious liberty in other countries, just one example would be that of Canada. A recent article cited a number of conflicts between Christians and the government related to marriage law. For example, the bishop of Calgary, Alberta, “was threatened with litigation and charged with a human-rights violation after he wrote a letter to local churches outlining standard Catholic teaching on marriage.” As the author of the article summarizes, “What we’ve discovered in Canada is that…once gay marriage becomes law, critics are often silenced by the force of the law.”
Next: Two handouts on marriage and religious liberty
Fortnight for Freedom posts:
- What is religious freedom?
- St. Thomas More, married saint and hero of religious liberty
- Sunday Pope Quote: Fortnight for Freedom edition
- How are marriage and religious liberty connected?
- How could changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?