The push in Illinois for gay marriage is instructive in the alarm bells it sounds on religious liberty (the Republican party chairman’s satisfaction on this front aside). As Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield explained it:
The pending bill is not only a dangerous social experiment about marriage. It is also a lethal attack upon religious liberty. This so-called “religious freedom” would not stop the state from obligating the Knights of Columbus to make their halls available for same-sex “weddings.” It would not stop the state from requiring Catholic grade schools to hire teachers who are legally “married” to someone of the same sex. This bill would not protect Catholic hospitals, charities, or colleges, which exclude those so “married” from senior leadership positions. Nor would it protect me, the Bishop of Springfield, if I refused to employ someone in a same-sex “marriage” who applied to the Diocese for a position meant to serve my ministry as your bishop. This “religious freedom” law does nothing at all to protect the consciences of people in business, or who work for the government. We saw the harmful consequences of deceptive titles all too painfully last year when the so-called “Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act” forced Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoption services in Illinois.
These threats do not raise a question about drafting a better law, one with more extensive conscience protections. There is no possible way—none whatsoever—for those who believe that marriage is exclusively the union of husband and wife to avoid legal penalties and harsh discriminatory treatment if the bill becomes law. Why should we expect it be otherwise? After all, we would be people who, according to the thinking behind the bill, hold onto an “unfair” view of marriage. The state would have equated our view with bigotry—which it uses the law to marginalize in every way short of criminal punishment.
Same-sex marriage does not simply include more people in the definition of civil marriage; it labels the natural understanding of marriage as a form of irrational prejudice, ignorance, bigotry, and even hatred. In other words, same-sex-marriage laws teach the public that people who view marriage in the natural way are morally equivalent to racists.
Once this idea is embedded in the law, there will be enormous pressure to take it to its logical conclusion by marginalizing and penalizing people who continue to think marriage is one man and one woman. Some of this pressure will come from state sources and some will come from private sources, but in both cases it will find ways through whatever cracks might exist in protections for religious and moral conscience. As Princeton professor Robby George put it in your recent interview with him, “If you ask, ‘What can be done going forward around the country to protect religious liberty?’ the answer is this: Win the fight to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife. Period.”
So many of the most contentious issues of the day come down to a fundamental misunderstanding about words like freedom and equality. As I’ve discussed in recent days with Eric Metaxas and Christopher West, license isn’t the rock of civilization, but throws rocks at it, especially as we institutionalize and mandate (see the HHS Mandate) our radical misunderstandings.