Marriage Redefinition and Religious Freedom

by Kim Daniels

We don’t yet know how the Supreme Court will rule next week in the Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act cases. But here’s what we do know: If same-sex marriage continues to gain ground in our law and culture, we’ll see an increased erosion of religious believers’ freedom to witness to their faith. And if that happens, we all lose out. A robust pluralism of diverse views will give way to an increasingly homogenized public life.

Take the Catholic understanding of marriage. Catholics bring rich teachings and ground-level experience to the conversation, and these days our voice is about as countercultural as it gets. In our hyper-individualistic society, Catholics stand for the view that marriage is much more than a contract between two people. In a consumer age in which everything seems disposable, Catholics believe that marriage is for life. In an adult-focused world, Catholics see children as gifts to be welcomed, not burdens to be avoided. Against a weakening marriage culture that works the most harm on the vulnerable, especially children, we know that marriage brings a man and a woman together for life, giving kids the best chance of being raised by their own mom and dad together. This helps ensure the long-term well-being of children, because the differences between moms and dads matter. For us these teachings are rooted in the belief that a mother and a father and their child together say something essential about God and his love.

Many people disagree with these views; that’s to be expected in a pluralist society. But you don’t have to accept these ideas to recognize that the presence of this distinct voice in such an important public conversation enriches public life. And the Constitution and our laws protect our right to witness to these beliefs.

Should the Supreme Court change the legal definition of marriage, that right will face serious challenges. Religiously affiliated schools, hospitals, and social-service ministries that continue to live by their beliefs about marriage could face anti-discrimination lawsuits, and their access to government contracts and benefits could be at risk. It’s not far-fetched to think that such groups may face the loss of tax-exempt status; the California Senate has passed a bill that would take away the Boy Scouts’ tax-exempt status in reaction to what it sees as the Scouts’ discriminatory membership policy.

What’s more, religious groups and individuals that hold to the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman could lose access to public facilities, accreditation, and licensing. In Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington, D.C., Catholic Charities groups were forced to stop providing adoption services because they wouldn’t give up their religiously grounded belief that kids do best with a mother and father.

Catholics have long been a voice for marriage, standing against a culture that has weakened this life-affirming social institution. Our parishes and dioceses and social-service ministries work in countless ways to strengthen marriages, and will continue to do so in season and out. And regardless of how the Supreme Court rules next week, we’ll continue to witness to the importance of marriage for the common good of our country.

— Kim Daniels is spokesperson for the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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