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How Marriage and Religious Liberty Interact


A number of scholars, with different opinions about same-sex marriage, believe redefining marriage will create conflicts with religious liberty. Those who are pushing redefinition, however, still argue the point. They say examples of previous conflicts (Massachusetts Catholic Charities forced out of the adoption business, a wedding photographer fined for not photographing a commitment ceremony in New Mexico, etc.) do not involve same-sex marriages but rather “sexual orientation” discrimination laws.

The question is, do they really believe existing conflicts are going to be alleviated by redefining marriage? The law of marriage creates duties for all kinds of people: employers who have to provide benefits to spouses of employees, businesses (especially ones in wedding-related fields), adoption agencies, social-service providers, professionals (such as marriage therapists or fertility doctors), etc. Redefining marriage will necessarily create conflicts between faith commitments and legal duties for organizations and individuals in any of these categories, who have a religious objection to treating a same-sex couple as equivalent to a married husband and wife.

There is another setting where a conflict is assured — public education. When the government redefines marriage, government schools are not free to ignore the new policy. Tolerance, family life, and sex-education curricula are automatically affected. When the federal First Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the claims of some Massachusetts parents that they deserved advance notice of classroom curricula and discussions involving alternative families, the court said public schools “have an interest in promoting tolerance, including for the children (and parents) of gay marriages.”

Current anti-discrimination laws already impinge on religious liberty but the broad effect of redefining marriage will multiply occasions for conflict.

When they cannot ignore the conflicts, gay marriage advocates reveal their real position — the price of participating in the public square should be abandoning “bigoted” beliefs and practices. In other words, they are saying: “When we win by getting gay marriage designated as a civil right, everyone, including religious people, will need to accept the change or leave the public square.”


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