In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, here’s my roundup of the best traditional perspectives.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion in United States v. Windsor, a 5-4 ruling which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to ‘disparage,’ ‘injure,’ ‘degrade,’ ‘demean’ and ‘humiliate’ our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence — indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humanigeneris, enemies of the human race.
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It takes real cheek for today’s majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here—when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority’s moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress’s hateful moral judgment against it. I promise you this: The only thing that will “confine” the Court’s holding is its sense of what it can get away with.
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In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us. The truth is more complicated. It is hard to admit that one’s political opponents are not monsters, especially in a struggle like this one, and the challenge in the end proves more than today’s Court can handle. Too bad. A reminder that disagreement over something so fundamental as marriage can still be politically legitimate would have been a fit task for what in earlier times was called the judicial temperament. We might have covered ourselves with honor today, by promising all sides of this debate that it was theirs to settle and that we would respect their resolution. We might have let the People decide.
But that the majority will not do. Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better. I dissent. (National Journal, Scalia: ‘High-Handed’ Kennedy Has Declared Us ‘Enemies of the Human Race’)
Justice Samuel Alito’s dissenting opinion in United States v. Windsor:
Same-sex marriage presents a highly emotional and important question of public policy—but not a difficult question of constitutional law. The Constitution does not guarantee the right to enter into a same-sex marriage. Indeed, no provision of the Constitution speaks to the issue.
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It is beyond dispute that the right to same-sex marriage is not deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition. In this country, no State permitted same-sex marriage until the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held in 2003 that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the State Constitution. Nor is the right to same-sex marriage deeply rooted in the traditions of other nations. No country allowed same-sex couples to marry until the Netherlands did so in 2000.
What Windsor and the United States seek, therefore, is not the protection of a deeply rooted right but the recognition of a very new right, and they seek this innovation not from a legislative body elected by the people, but from unelected judges. Faced with such a request, judges have cause for both caution and humility.
The family is an ancient and universal human institution. Family structure reflects the characteristics of a civilization, and changes in family structure and in the popular understanding of marriage and the family can have profound effects. Past changes in the understanding of marriage—for example, the gradual ascendance of the idea that romantic love is a prerequisite to marriage— have had far-reaching consequences. But the process by which such consequences come about is complex, involving the interaction of numerous factors, and tends to occur over an extended period of time.
We can expect something similar to take place if same-sex marriage becomes widely accepted. The long-term consequences of this change are not now known and are unlikely to be ascertainable for some time to come. There are those who think that allowing same-sex marriage will seriously undermine the institution of marriage. See, e.g., S. Girgis, R. Anderson, & R. George, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense 53–58 (2012); Finnis, Marriage: A Basic and Exigent Good, 91 The Monist 388, 398 (2008). Others think that recognition of same-sex marriage will fortify a now-shaky institution. See, e.g., A. Sullivan, Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality 202–203 (1996); J. Rauch, Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America 94 (2004).
At present, no one—including social scientists, philosophers, and historians—can predict with any certainty what the long-term ramifications of widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage will be. And judges are certainly not equipped to make such an assessment. The Members of this Court have the authority and the responsibility to interpret and apply the Constitution. Thus, if the Constitution contained a provision guaranteeing the right to marry a person of the same sex, it would be our duty to enforce that right. But the Constitution simply does not speak to the issue of same-sex marriage. In our system of government, ultimate sovereignty rests with the people, and the people have the right to control their own destiny. Any change on a question so fundamental should be made by the people through their elected officials.
Perhaps because they cannot show that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under our Constitution, Windsor and the United States couch their arguments in equal protection terms.
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By asking the Court to strike down DOMA as not satisfying some form of heightened scrutiny, Windsor and the United States are really seeking to have the Court resolve a debate between two competing views of marriage.
The first and older view, which I will call the “traditional” or “conjugal” view, sees marriage as an intrinsically opposite-sex institution. BLAG notes that virtually every culture, including many not influenced by the Abrahamic religions, has limited marriage to people of the opposite sex. (“Until a few decades ago, it was an accepted truth for almost everyone who ever lived, in any society in which marriage existed, that there could be marriages only between participants of different sex”). And BLAG attempts to explain this phenomenon by arguing that the institution of marriage was created for the purpose of channeling heterosexual intercourse into a structure that supports child rearing. Others explain the basis for the institution in more philosophical terms. They argue that marriage is essentially the solemnizing of a comprehensive, exclusive, permanent union that is intrinsically ordered to producing new life, even if it does not always do so. See, e.g., Girgis, Anderson, & George, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, at 23–28. While modern cultural changes have weakened the link between marriage and procreation in the popular mind, there is no doubt that, throughout human history and across many cultures, marriage has been viewed as an exclusively opposite-sex institution and as one inextricably linked to procreation and biological kinship.
The other, newer view is what I will call the “consent-based” vision of marriage, a vision that primarily defines marriage as the solemnization of mutual commitment— marked by strong emotional attachment and sexual attraction—between two persons. At least as it applies to heterosexual couples, this view of marriage now plays a very prominent role in the popular understanding of the institution. Indeed, our popular culture is infused with this understanding of marriage. Proponents of same-sex marriage argue that because gender differentiation is not relevant to this vision, the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage is rank discrimination.
The Constitution does not codify either of these views of marriage (although I suspect it would have been hard at the time of the adoption of the Constitution or the Fifth Amendment to find Americans who did not take the traditional view for granted). The silence of the Constitution on this question should be enough to end the matter as far as the judiciary is concerned. Yet, Windsor and the United States implicitly ask us to endorse the consent-based view of marriage and to reject the traditional view, thereby arrogating to ourselves the power to decide a question that philosophers, historians, social scientists, and theologians are better qualified to explore. Because our constitutional order assigns the resolution of questions of this nature to the people, I would not presume to enshrine either vision of marriage in our constitutional jurisprudence.
Andy Crouch on sex without bodies and the importance of being queer:
What unites the LGBTQIA coalition is a conviction that human beings are not created male and female in any essential or important way. What matters is not one’s body but one’s heart—the seat of human will and desire, which only its owner can know.
Christians will have to choose between two consistent positions. One, which we believe Christians who affirm gay and lesbian unions will ultimately have to embrace, is to say that embodied sexual differentiation is irrelevant—completely, thoroughly, totally irrelevant—to covenant faithfulness.
The proof text for this view will be that in Christ, there is neither male nor female. And as with all readings based on proof texts, upholding it will require openly discarding a vast expanse of other biblical material, the many biblical voices (including Jesus’) that affirm and elucidate the significance of male-and-female creation.
As this view gains traction in our culture, the created givenness of bodies must give way to the achievement of ascertaining, announcing, and fulfilling one’s own internally discerned desires, with no normative reference to the body one happens to inhabit. It is no accident that as normative sexuality has been redefined, from an essentially exterior reality uniting male and female bodies to an essentially interior reality expressing one’s heart, the charges of bigotry have been heard more fiercely against those who hold the traditional Christian view. How dare we Christians speak against any person’s heart?
Marriage, which has always been “unequal,” yoking together two very different kinds of bodies, must now be “equal,” measured only by the sincerity of one’s love and commitment. To insist on the importance of bodies is to challenge the sovereign self, to suggest that our ethical options are limited by something we did not choose.
There is one other consistent position that Christians can hold, though we will hold it at great social cost, at least for the foreseeable future: that bodies matter. Indeed, that both male and female bodies are of ultimate value and dignity—not a small thing given the continuing denigration of women around the world.
Indeed, that matter matters. For behind the dismissal of bodies is ultimately a gnostic distaste for embodiment in general. To uphold a biblical ethic on marriage is to affirm the sweeping scriptural witness—hardly a matter of a few isolated “thou shalt not” verses—that male and female together image God, that the creation of humanity as male and female is “very good,” and that “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18, NRSV).
Sexual differentiation (along with its crucial outcome of children, who have a biological connection to two parents but are not mirror images of either one) is not an accident of evolution or a barrier to fulfillment. It is in fact the way God is imaged, and the way fruitfulness, diversity, and abundance are sustained in the world.
Can we hold this position and love our LGBTQIA neighbors? Yes. For we find ourselves on utterly familiar ground with our LGBTQIA neighbors, and they with us, when we turn from matters of the body to matters of the heart. All of us know, in the depths of our heart, that we are queer. Our yearnings, especially those bound up with our sexuality, are hardly ever fully satisfied by the biblical model of one man and one woman yoked together for life. Every one of us is a member of the coalition of human beings who feel out of place in our bodies east of Eden. And every one of us has fallen far short of honoring God and other human beings with our bodies.
This is especially, grievously so in a culture saturated with pornography, which threatens to make sexual gnostics of us all, chasing ecstasy further and further afield from the dignity and limits of bodies, male and female, given in covenant love.
Is there an easy way out of the current battles over sexuality? No. But there is a way through. A remnant, perhaps small and perhaps substantial, will continue to teach that we are created male and female, to bless the marriages that reunite those two broken halves, and to remind all, married and unmarried, that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage”—that ultimately our earthly eros only reflects the reunion promised between the Creator and his image bearers. Along the way, we all will be queer, groaning as we await the redemption of our bodies. To the LGBTQIA alliance, add an H—for this is what it is to be fully, incompletely, expectantly Human. (Christianity Today, Sex Without Bodies)
Ted Olsen on same-sex marriage proponents who declare they are on “the right side of history”:
Like so much disciplined political rhetoric, it’s hollow. It brings with it all the faults of the Whig interpretation of history—the notion that humanity is on an inevitable march toward greater progress, liberty, and enlightenment as defined in the present moment—while claiming to do so from some mysterious future vantage point.
But the rhetoric of the “right side of history” (or better, History, for it is always personified as a single, clearheaded judge) is nevertheless powerful. It’s powerful even for biblically minded evangelical Protestants. One key reason is that postwar evangelicalism has always been driven by a passion to “speak the language of the culture” (especially the language of mainstream youth culture). Evangelicals’ ability to respond to and adapt to changing cultural assumptions has long been a point of pride and passion—a key distinction between it and fundamentalism. Evangelical leaders are not just incessant trendwatchers, but extrapolators. It’s hard not to draw a line from Massachusetts to California to the other 11 states that now allow same-sex marriage and not assume that the number will climb to 50 within months, if not years. To many evangelicals, fighting same-sex marriage now seems as quaint as fighting card playing. Call us wrong and we shrug it off. Call us quaint or irrelevant and we howl.
But there’s another reason why theologically conservative Protestants are apt to be taken by the “right side of history” rhetoric: Our own view of history tends to dovetail with it. You don’t have to be a Late Great Planet Earth / Left Behind–reading dispensationalist to have been shaped by a view that our culture will be on a steady moral and spiritual decline until the cataclysmic return of Jesus. (To be sure, there has been a great deal of rethinking this view in recent years, and as Michael Lindsay notes it’s a rare view among the “cosmopolitan evangelicals” he describes as in the halls of power. But it’s also precisely these cosmopolitan evangelicals who are least prone to be concerned about same-sex marriage.)
The apocalyptic Christians are right. The “right side of history” on marriage is a history that begins with one man and one woman in a garden and ends with the wedding supper of the Lamb. That is the historical view that all Christian discussions of marriage must proceed from.
But that doesn’t mean that the line connecting those two events is one steady downward slope with a sudden radical break at the end.
Rather, the story between the marital distrust and blame of Genesis 3 and fall of adulterous Babylonian Revelation 18 is broken the whole way through—and pierced throughout with God breaking through with beauty, grace, and signs of true union.
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History, of course, is full of warnings that the “inevitable” is often not. Industrialization was going to lead to global secularism, except it didn’t. Kicking the missionaries out of China was going to kill off Christianity in the country that now has the world’s most Christians. Luther expected to die an anathematized heretic. The New York Times called Roe v. Wade “a historic resolution of a fiercely controversial issue.” The eugenics movement. Prohibition.
As Richard John Neuhaus once said, “There are no permanently lost causes because there are no permanently won causes.”
Or, as N.T. Wright said more recently, noting that Hillary Clinton had said once that “Russian and China were on the ‘wrong side of history’:
But how does she know what “history” will do? And what makes her think that “history” never makes mistakes? … The spirit of the age is in any case notoriously fickle. You might as well, walking in the mist, take a compass bearing on a mountain goat. What is more, the Church’s foundation documents (to say nothing of its Founder himself) were notoriously on the wrong side of history. The Gospel was foolishness to the Greeks, said St Paul, and a scandal to Jews.
The danger, of course, is that all of this can sound like one more culture war battle cry: We shall fight on the beaches! We have not begun to fight! The fewer men, the greater share of honor! To the constitutional amendment making machine!
Except it’s not that. The proper response to such arrogance and rhetorical triumphalism isn’t more arrogance and triumphalism, shouting, “We win in the end, so get with the program.” The better response is to meet those claims with humility and questions. (Christianity Today, The Right Side of History is Full of Rewrites)
Cardinal Donald Wuerl on why the public debate on marriage should be framed according to nature rather than equality:
Some have framed this debate in terms of “equality.” That rings with a certain American appeal. Everyone wants to be treated equally, with the love and respect due all people. But focusing on “marriage equality” gets the question wrong. Equality requires treating like cases alike. We need to determine whether we have “like cases” at all. If we want to address the principle of equality correctly, we need to get to the truth of marriage first.
Arguing that the law, for equality’s sake, should recognize two men or two women as “married” presumes that these pairs are the same as one man and one woman and that marriage is simply a committed relationship of any adults. All of this raises the question: What is the nature of marriage?
Marriage is the word used in many translations across human history to signify the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman. It is the only institution that brings a man and a woman together in a partnership for life directed toward their mutual support and the generation and education of children. This is a human community that predates government. Its meaning is something to be recognized and protected, not reconstructed. Its simplicity is compelling. Its significance, both personal and public, is immeasurable. What promise between two people holds the same weight and consequence as that of a man and a woman who give themselves to each other for life with a view toward creating new life so that humanity might continue?
Marriage goes to the nature of the human person. Even if individual men and women are unable to have children for some reason, still it is the nature of man and woman to complement each other in such a way that is fruitful and capable of children. Two persons of the same sex, on the other hand, can never have children by the very nature of such a union.
No matter what a court, legislator, president or voter may claim to the contrary, the essence of marriage cannot be redefined. Its meaning is intrinsic, grounded in human nature and discoverable by human reason with or without the aid of faith.
A culture based on the truth of marriage affirms that men and women are equally important, that they have equal dignity but are not the same. The recognition of the difference between a man and a woman is neither discrimination nor bigotry. It is a statement of reality, of fact.
What the court has determined demonstrates the limits of civil legislation. We all recognize that the word “marriage” is being used in many different ways. All that civil government can do is address the legal consequences of any specific union it has chosen to call marriage. While there are many other words to describe other human unions, “marriage,” in its intrinsic meaning and basic integrity, will continue to be understood by most people as the coming together of a man and woman committed to live together with the possibility to generate and raise children.
Far from settling the debate over the meaning of marriage, the Supreme Court decisions have simply reminded all of us that there is a great difference between what a law can decree and what God has created. (Washington Post, Debating the nature of marriage)
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, on where we go from here:
First, realize what the Supreme Court did not do. It did not create a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage as it did for abortion in 1973. So these rulings are not a death blow to marriage, as some claim. Think about it: The Supreme Court heard the best arguments same-sex-marriage advocates have to offer, and those arguments failed to persuade the justices to strike down existing state marriage laws and create a right to same-sex marriage. This should encourage us to continue our efforts to secure and protect marriage through civic and legal means.
Secondly, we must redouble our efforts to make the case for marriage by taking our own marriage oaths more seriously. The Supreme Court decisions do nothing to diminish the job of the Church to proclaim God’s truth to a culture that desperately needs it, nor do they diminish the functions of marriage. Marriage still serves to unite husbands, wives, and children. It still protects children from poverty. It still provides the best environment to raise healthy, thriving kids.
The single greatest argument we can present to the world on marriage is to personally live out marriage in all its God-ordained fullness and radiant beauty. Let’s do that well, so we can change the hearts and minds of those who may doubt the wisdom of God’s plan. (National Review, What’s Next for Marriage?)
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, on “what has changed for us, for our churches, and our witness to the gospel”:
In one sense, nothing. Jesus of Nazareth is still alive. He is calling the cosmos toward his kingdom, and he will ultimately be Lord indeed. Regardless of what happens with marriage, the gospel doesn’t need “family values” to flourish. In fact, it often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it. That’s why the gospel rocketed out of the first-century from places such as Ephesus and Philippi and Corinth and Rome, which were hardly Mayberry.
In another sense, though, the marginalization of conjugal marriage in American culture has profound implications for our gospel witness. First of all, marriage isn’t incidental to gospel preaching.
There’s a reason why persons don’t split apart like amoebas. We were all conceived in the union between a man and a woman. Beyond the natural reality, the gospel tells us there’s a cosmic mystery (Eph. 5:32).
God designed the one-flesh union of marriage as an embedded icon of the union between Christ and his church. Marriage and sexuality, among the most powerful pulls in human existence, are designed to train humanity to recognize, in the fullness of time, what it means for Jesus to be one with his church, as a head with a body.
Same-sex marriage is on the march, even apart from these decisions, and is headed to your community, regardless of whether you are sitting where I am right now, on Capitol Hill, or in a rural hamlet in southwest Georgia or eastern Idaho. This is an opportunity for gospel witness.
For a long time in American culture, we’ve acted as though we could assume marriage. Even people from what were once called “broken homes” could watch stable marriages on television or movies. Boys and girls mostly assumed they had a wedding in their futures. As marriage is redefined, these assumptions will change. Let’s not wring our hands about that.
This gives Christian churches the opportunity to do what Jesus called us to do with our marriages in the first place: to serve as a light in a dark place. Permanent, stable marriages with families with both a mother and a father may well make us seem freakish in 21st-century culture. But is there anything more “freakish” than a crucified cosmic ruler? Is there anything more “freakish” than a gospel that can forgive rebels like us and make us sons and daughters? Let’s embrace the freakishness, and crucify our illusions of a moral majority.
That means that we must repent of our pathetic marriage cultures within the church. For too long, we’ve refused to discipline a divorce culture that has ravaged our cultures. For too long, we’ve quieted our voices on the biblical witness of the distinctive missions of fathers and mothers in favor of generic messages on “parenting.”
For too long, we’ve acted as though the officers of Christ’s church were Justices of the Peace, marrying people who have no accountability to the church, and in many cases were forbidden by Scripture to marry. Just because we don’t have two brides or two grooms in front of us, that doesn’t mean we’ve been holding to biblical marriage.
The dangerous winds of religious liberty suppression means that our nominal Bible Belt marrying parson ways are over. Good riddance. This means we have the opportunity, by God’s grace, to take marriage as seriously as the gospel does, in a way that prompts the culture around us to ask why.
The increased attention to the question of marriage also gives us the opportunity to love our gay and lesbian neighbors as Jesus does. Some will capitulate on a Christian sexual ethic. There are always those professional “dissidents” who make a living espousing mainline Protestant shibboleths to an evangelical market. But the church will stand, and that means the gospel Jesus has handed down through the millennia. As we stand with conviction, we don’t look at our gay and lesbian neighbors as our enemies. They are not.
The gay and lesbian people in your community aren’t part of some global “Gay Agenda” conspiracy. They aren’t super-villains in some cartoon. They are, like all of us, seeking a way that seems right to them. If we believe marriage is as resilient as Jesus says it is (Mk. 10:6-9), it cannot be eradicated by a vote of justices or a vote of a state legislature. Some will be disappointed by what they thought would answer their quest for meaning. Will our churches be ready to answer?
This also means we must change the way we preach. Those with same-sex attractions, who follow Christ, will be walking away from what their families and friends want for them: wedding cake and married life and the American Dream. Following Jesus will mean taking up a cross and following a hard narrow way. It always does.
If we’re going to preach that sort of gospel, we must make it clear that this cross-bearing self-denial isn’t just for homosexually-tempted Christians. It is for all of us, because that’s what the gospel is. If your church has been preaching the American Dream, with eternal life at the end and Jesus as the means you use to get all that, you don’t have a gospel that can reach your gay and lesbian neighbors—or anyone else for that matter.
Same-sex marriage is headed for your community. This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing. It’s a time for forgiven sinners, like us, to do what the people of Christ have always done. It’s time for us to point beyond our family values and our culture wars to the cross of Christ as we say: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
And that’s good news. (Christianity Today, “What Did the Supreme Court Really Change Today?“)
Ben Domenech on the future of religious liberty:
During the sexual revolution, we crossed a line from sex being something you do to defining who you are. When it enters into that territory, we move beyond the possibility of having a society in which sex acts were tolerated, in the Mrs. Patrick Campbell sense – “I don’t care what they do, so long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses” – and one where it is insufficient to be anything but a cheerleader for sexual persuasion of all manner and type, because to be any less so is to hate the person themselves. Sex stopped being an aspect of a person, and became their lodestar – in much the same way religion is for others. As Walker Percy wrote, “Pascal told only half the story. He said man was a thinking reed. What man is, is a thinking reed and a walking genital.”
The problem with gay marriage is not about gay people getting married – they’ve already been doing that, or living that way. The problem with gay marriage is not that it will redefine marriage into a less valuable social institution in the eyes of the populace – that is already happening, has been for decades, and will continue regardless of whether gays are added to it or not. And the problem with gay marriage is not about the slippery slope of what comes next – though yes, the legal battle over polyamory and polygamy is inevitably coming, as the principle of marriage equality demands it does (these relationships already exist below the radar, albeit with more poly than amory involved – of the 500 gay couples followed in the respected San Francisco study, about half of the partners have sex with someone else with their partner knowing).
No, the real problem with gay marriage is that the nature of the marriage union is inherently entwined in the future of the first line of the Bill of Rights: our right to religious liberty. Orthodox believers of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths were slow to understand this. I’m talking about something much bigger here than the discrimination lawsuits brought across the country against bakers and photographers: I’m talking about whether churches will be able to function as public entities in an era where their views on sin, particularly sexual sin, are in direct conflict with not just opinion but the law – and proselytizing those views from the pulpit or in the public square will be viewed as using the protection of religious expression to protect hateful speech.
We saw this problem already in Illinois’ marriage law, where churches that do not allow same sex unions would essentially have to close their doors to full participation in civil society. We see it as a constant issue regarding Canada’s hate speech laws, where courts must discern whether quoting Bible verses amounts to “harming the public discourse.” We will see it more here. That obvious oncoming clash strikes me as the most troublesome aspect of this, and the one that has received the least attention in the rush to legalize. The argument has been more about benefits and social outcomes and “won’t somebody think of the children”, ignoring the core problem, which raises challenges to the freedom of speech and expression the likes of which led to the pilgrims crossing the sea in the first place.
The conflict between sexual liberty and religious liberty is unlikely to be one the religious will win, in large part because of the broad and increasing acceptance of an idea President Obama has espoused more than once in public: that the religious have a freedom to worship, and that’s where it ends. When you leave the pew, you must leave your faith there. Among the religious, this is absurd – their entire lives are defined by their faith, in ways large and small. For both Christianity and Islam, the core of their faith is built on a call to take the message to the world, spreading it through public witness and preaching. Yet this belief in the limited freedom to worship is what led Obama’s administration to argue that faith-based hiring and firing is a discriminatory act for religious entities. It will lead to similar cases in the years to come regarding the marriage issue, but not just focused in that space – expect it to factor in divorce proceedings, custody battles, and more points involving the nice folks from Child Protective Services. Expect it also to factor in dramatically expanding the scope of these discrimination lawsuits – think on the doctor in California who was brought up on discrimination charges for referring a lesbian couple to a colleague for artificial insemination.
In a litigious society, those conscience conflicts will multiply, with pressure on anyone who “refuses and refers” to be stripped of their government-provided license or memberships in professional society. This will occur in part because the gay and lesbian population is distinctly different in comparison to the rest of the public when it comes to religion. Half of the LGBT population is atheist, agnostic, or religiously unaffiliated – and this makes them far less likely to respect the religious defenses of those they view as preaching and practicing bigotry, and recruiting people to join their bigoted club.
Without religious liberty, there really is no such thing as free speech. When government can pick and choose which form of expression is religiously defensible and which is unjustified hate, it fundamentally alters the relationship between state and citizen. If a different path toward gay marriage had been followed – the compromise of a simple civil union approach to ensure access to rights and benefits – it’s possible this clash could’ve been avoided. A federalist solution to marriage could’ve slowed the approach to the issue to a point where the concerns of the faithful could achieve proper protection. But those for whom sexual identity is paramount have insisted on redefining institutions, through a series of repeated flashpoints – from the Boy Scouts to the Catholic hospitals and adoption centers – disregarding any of the outcomes. The calculation is simple: ensuring the supremacy of their worldview is the goal, and those who disrespect it (for religious reasons or not) deserve to be shunned, regardless of the fallout for civil society. And there will be fallout.
So the real issue here is not about gay marriage at all, but the sexual revolution’s consequences, witnessed in the shift toward prioritization of sexual identity, and the concurrent rise of the nones and the decline of the traditional family. The real reason Obama’s freedom to worship limitation can take hold is that we are now a country where the average person prioritizes sex far more than religion. One of the underestimated aspects of the one out of five Americans (and one out of three Millennials) who are now thoroughly religiously unaffiliated is that, according to Barna’s research, they aren’t actually seekers. They’re not looking or thinking about being part of a community focused on spirituality, in prayer, fellowship, worship, or anything else. Their exposure to faith is diminished because they want it to be.
In a nation where fewer people truly practice religion, fewer people external to those communities will see any practical reason to protect the liberty of those who do. The world could in time come full circle to Mrs. Campbell’s old line: You are free to believe, as long as you don’t do it in the streets, so as not to frighten the horses. (Ricochet, The Future of Religious Liberty)