WASHINGTON — Vermont has become the fourth state to legalize same-sex “marriage” — and the first to do so with a legislature’s vote. With traditional marriage, religious liberty has also come under an avalanche of attacks.
Overturning the governor’s veto by one vote, Vermont joins Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts in giving homosexual and lesbian couples the right to “marry.”
On the same day Vermont fell, the Washington, D.C., Council voted to recognize same-sex “marriages” performed in other states. Last month, 15 homosexuals and lesbians in Massachusetts also filed a suit to challenge the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.
And on April 16, New York Gov. David Paterson introduced a bill to legalize same-sex “marriage” in the state.
As same-sex “marriage” gains ground, First Amendment religious liberty and conscience rights are under increasing assault.
• A New Jersey Methodist group, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, refused to rent out its beachside pavilion for a same-sex civil-union ceremony — and lost its tax exemption on the property.
• A Christian photographer was forced by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission to pay $6,637 in attorney’s fees after she refused to photograph a same-sex “wedding.”
• A Christian student was kicked out of Eastern Michigan University’s counseling program because she would not affirm homosexual behavior as morally acceptable.
• A psychologist in Georgia declined for religious reasons to counsel a woman about her lesbian relationship — and was fired.
• The Connecticut Legislature is expected to take action on S.B. 899, which would repeal laws against teaching same-sex lifestyles in schools and provides no religious liberty protection.
And that’s just a small sampling. “The homosexual legal agenda is the principal threat to religious liberty in America today,” said Alliance Defense Fund attorney Mike Johnson.
“We’re trying to raise the alarm that Christians shouldn’t let their First Amendment rights die the death of a thousand little cuts.”
Just the Beginning
Legal analysts say we’re witnessing just the beginning of the legal battles that will result as same-sex “marriage” rights continue to clash with the First Amendment freedoms of religion and conscience.
“If the law commands identical treatment of same-sex sexual conduct and married sexual conduct — and the Church forbids that identical treatment — people and institutions will object in conscience to the command of the state, and lawsuits will follow,” said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The word “marriage” involves laws governing families, property, employment, trusts, estates, taxes, and many other areas. So changing the definition of marriage changes a huge number of laws at once. This will lead to what the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty calls “an unprecedented level” of church-state legal conflicts under the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and religion clauses.
Douglas Laycock, University of Michigan law professor and co-author of Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, said the Church should realize these cases are “not about the sacrament of marriage” but “about mostly money and responsibility for children — obligations of support, pension plans, social security, tax filings” and “other things the state controls.”
“If we would think about it more carefully and get these two separated, we would make some progress,” Laycock said.
Church-provided services open to lawsuits under same-sex “marriage” law include marriage and family counseling, soup kitchens, job-training programs, day care, schools, adoption services and wedding-reception facilities.
A classic example of what could likely occur would be a teacher at a Catholic elementary school who obtains a same-sex “marriage.” If the Church wants to fire the man because he’s renounced an important Catholic teaching and created a scandal, the teacher could sue on the grounds he was fired for getting “married.”
Religious institutions that oppose same-sex “marriage” could also be sued for “hate speech,” stripped of their tax-exempt status, and lose government funding for church-affiliated hospitals, universities and charities.
“Same-sex ‘marriage’ is based on the idea that there is no difference between same-sex and opposite-sex unions and you’re a bigot if you see any difference,” said Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage.
“In this circumstance,” Gallagher said, “it’s extremely difficult to imagine providing really substantive religious-liberty protections because we don’t give religious exemptions to racists and bigots.”
Just when the Church needs to enter the public dialogue in force, the “bigot” label has silenced many Catholics.
How can lay Catholics speak more effectively about this hot-button issue?
“They should speak the truth with love: Study up on the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage, and then relate it temperately and compassionately, but also clearly and firmly, to anyone who will listen,” Picarello advised. “The main task before us is to evangelize and catechize one another in the Church, and then go out to the world.”
For those seeking ways to broach the subject with family and friends, numerous “marriage talking points” are available at Gallagher’s website, NationForMarriage.org.
The single most effective sentence to use when defending marriage, the site says, is: “Gays and lesbians have a right to live as they choose; they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.”
In an attempt to “live and let live,” many Christians say same-sex couples can have their civil unions, just hands off on marriage. But Brian Rooney of the Thomas More Law Center cautions that in the homosexual-activist agenda civil unions’ approval is just one step on the way to acquiring full-blown “marriage” rights.
Once same-sex couples have all the rights of marriage, just set up under another name, they have a fairly good argument in court that they’re being discriminated against as a separate class. Rooney said winning the legal right to “marry” is “almost a charade at that point.”
Need for Action
All agree that more important than what Catholics say is what they do to protect and defend marriage. “What you’re seeing is not the triumph of messaging, but the exercise of power. They’re shutting people down,” Gallagher said.
“The No. 1 thing we lack is grassroots, single-issue organizations — people who will organize to defend marriage,” Gallagher said. “It’s not about holding press conferences and getting the right messaging. It’s about being in the political fray in a direct way.”
She noted that although homosexuals make up only 2% of the population, “the top 10 homosexual-rights organizations have a combined revenue stream of over $200 million. These are people putting their money where their mouth is, and they’re using that money to make a difference.”
“If we have 60% of the population on our side — and let’s say 10% of those people are willing to get organized — that’s a potentially formidable force,” Gallagher observed.
“We need lay organizations that recruit candidates and fund effective alternatives when the government goes after churches. That’s the essential task. There’s no other strategy that’s going to work. We have to get organized.”
In his 1981 apostolic exhortation on the family, Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II said, “Families should grow in awareness of being ‘protagonists’ of what is known as ‘family politics’ and assume responsibility for transforming society; otherwise, families will be the first victims of the evils that they have done no more than note with indifference.”
Reasons for Hope
By all indications, Americans still support traditional marriage, Gallagher said. A CBS News poll in March again affirmed that only one-third of Americans think same-sex couples should be allowed to “marry.”
What’s more, Johnson said, “At the Alliance Defense Fund alone, we’re winning 82% of the [religious liberty] cases that we litigate to conclusion. Also, when you look at the marriage amendments, the average passage rate is about 71% nationwide. Every time this issue goes to the ballot box, [traditional marriage] wins.”
Attorney Laycock was less hopeful. “The Church is not winning this fight,” he said. “Same-sex ‘marriage’ is the law in four states now, and that number is growing.”
Rather than focusing on defeating same-sex “marriage,” Laycock said the “better solution” is for the Church to work with legislatures to expand religious exemptions to Catholic schools, charities, hospitals and other affiliated organizations, and to individuals directly involved with marriage, such as bridal shops, florists and wedding caterers.
“Get as many of those exemptions as you can, and the time to get them is now — not after the gay and lesbian side has totally won and you have no bargaining power left,” Laycock advised. “The gay and lesbian side is not interested in granting those exemptions. If you wait until they’ve won, they won’t grant them.”
But Gallagher said the Church can work to expand religious-liberty protections and defend marriage.
“In fact, Vermont did pass for the very first time some rather weak but real religious-liberty protections,” Gallagher said. “That is a model that could theoretically be expanded on. But it’s not a separate task from the task of protecting the goodness of our marriage tradition.”
Sue Ellin Browder is based in Willits, California.
What Could Happen
• If the Connecticut Legislature passes S.B. 899, laws against teaching same-sex lifestyles in schools could be repealed and marriage defenders such as the Knights of Columbus could be subject to prosecution.
• The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty foresees “an unprecedented level” of church-state legal conflicts under the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and religion clauses.
• Church-provided services open to lawsuits under same-sex “marriage” law include marriage and family counseling, soup kitchens, job-training programs, day care, schools, adoption services and wedding-reception facilities.
• If the Church wants to fire a teacher after a same-sex “marriage” for religious reasons, the teacher could sue on the grounds he was fired for getting “married.”
April 26-May 2, 2009 Issue