Gay Marriage And Religious Liberties

National Public Radio reports:

As states have legalized same-sex partnerships, the rights of gay couples have consistently trumped the rights of religious groups. Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress, says that does not mean that a pastor can be sued for preaching against same-sex marriage. But, he says, that may be just about the only religious activity that will be protected.

“What if a church offers marriage counseling? Will they be able to say ‘No, we’re not going to help gay couples get along because it violates our religious principles to do so? What about summer camps? Will they be able to insist that gay couples not serve as staff because they’re a bad example?” Stern asks.

Stern says if the early cases are any guide, the outlook is grim for religious groups.

A few cases: Yeshiva University was ordered to allow same-sex couples in its married dormitory. A Christian school has been sued for expelling two allegedly lesbian students. Catholic Charities abandoned its adoption service in Massachusetts after it was told to place children with same-sex couples. The same happened with a private company operating in California.

A psychologist in Mississippi who refused to counsel a lesbian couple lost her case, and legal experts believe that a doctor who refused to provide IVF services to a lesbian woman is about to lose his pending case before the California Supreme Court.

More stories at the link above. This is precisely what Mary Ann Glendon, Professor of Law At Harvard University, referred to when she wrote:

Religious freedom, too, is at stake. As much as one may wish to live and let live, the experience in other countries reveals that once these arrangements become law, there will be no live-and-let-live policy for those who differ. Gay-marriage proponents use the language of openness, tolerance and diversity, yet one foreseeable effect of their success will be to usher in an era of intolerance and discrimination the likes of which we have rarely seen before. Every person and every religion that disagrees will be labeled as bigoted and openly discriminated against. The ax will fall most heavily on religious persons and groups that don’t go along. Religious institutions will be hit with lawsuits if they refuse to compromise their principles.

The NPR article can be found here. My thoughts on this can be found in a 2005 post here.

11 Responses to “Gay Marriage And Religious Liberties”


  • I guess I’m just having a hard time getting all worked up about this. It is true, of course, that as discriminatory practices become illegal, groups who discriminate will be compelled to comply. But that seems like a good thing to me. A doctor who refuses to treat a homosexual patient, as in the example above, should be sued, and should lose the lawsuit.

    The only fear then, as voiced by Ms. Glendon, is that the law will be interpreted too broadly. Well, I can’t predict the future (neither can she), but I can recognize patterns in the past that are likely to be repeated. Here’s an obvious one:

    The law, as it stands today, prohibits discrimination based on sex, yet the Catholic Church (among many others) prohibits women from leadership positions, solely based on gender. Numerous attempts to change this have been re-buffed in numerous courts – and rightfully so.

    Why shouldn’t I assume that courts will be similarly reasonable with respect to laws regarding discrimination against homosexuals?

  • “Numerous attempts to change this have been re-buffed in numerous courts – and rightfully so.’

    I guess I have to ask “whom” was attempting to change this? I cannot see a nun going to court to press the church for a leadership position. Are these just outside groups pushing this thru the courts?

    I personally find this whole thing ridiculous. I just love the way people add an adjectives in front of the word “marriage” and then declare that there is a right. By this same “right”, shouldn’t we allow polygamist this same “right”?

    As it stands now, gay people can marry as long as it’s someone of the opposite sex. There’s no discimination involve. Why should we allow people to marry someone of the same sex? What purpose does this serve?

    I have to wonder if we should get away from the word “marriage” and instead use the word “Union” or “Partnership”. Such as, instead of getting a certificate of marriage at your local town hall, we would get a “certificate of Unionship” or “Certificate of Partnership” and leave marriages to the churches. I believe this would remove a lot of the emotion over the issue, give gays the status that they so crave and churchs such as the Catholic church can still practice their religous practice of marriages without it being infringed. Just wondering.

  • LaurenceB,

    What are your thoughts on the examples provided? Should Churches that provide marriage counseling, should they be required to also provide it to gay couples? What about summer camps, required to admit gays? You dont see these as religious liberty violations? I certainly do.

  • Since you asked:

    No, churches should not be obligated to provide marital counseling to homosexual partners. (And it will surprise me if a court disagrees.)

    No, religiously affiliated summer camps should not be obligated to admit gays. (And, again, I can’t imagine that a court would ever rule otherwise.)

    Yes, religiously affiliated summer camps should be allowed to choose not to employ someone based on their sexual preference.

    Reverse the answers above for summer camps that have no religious affiliation.

    The Yeshiva University case is the toughest one – mostly because the case is actually mostly about discrimination based on marital status. In this case, married students were getting a special deal. The university recognized (probably, correctly) that if they opened the housing deal up to same-sex partners there would be a sudden surge of “gay partners” on campus. I guess I would come down on the side of the University – but only just barely.

    Christian schools should be allowed to expel gay students – and I’m guessing the courts will agree.

    I generally agree with the Massachusetts court that adoption services should be obligated to consider gay couples.

    Psychologists and doctors should be obligated to attend to the health needs of gays just as the courts have ruled.

  • Time will tell but if I was a betting man, I’d bet against you. I think that gay marriage leads people to equate “opposition to gay practice and gay marriage” with “opposition to race”…and therefore pushes for more harsher regulation of religious liberties but its still too early to tell.

  • Yes, time will tell. I have no crystal ball.

    Once again, though, I would point to past experiences:

    The Mormon Church excluded blacks from their priesthood until the late 70′s – well after landmark Civil Rights legislation. And when they made the change, it wasn’t the result of a lawsuit, but rather a simple recognition that times had changed. I suspect (and hope) that things like excluding gays from Church functions, adoption, etc. will similarly fall by the wayside.

  • People are going to believe what they’re going to believe. There is no logical reason to think that legalizing gay marriage is going to change anyone’s mind about prejudice against homosexuals. But churches are allowed to refuse people for any reason anyways even race. Even if they passed a law and it was found constitutional “pastor just doesn’t like the couple” is a valid reason and how are they going to prove its because its a same-sex couple?

  • PS if the sole concern is religious freedom then would you be ok with gay marriage being legalized as long as it comes with clauses guaranteeing that the law won’t effect the rights of religious institutions to discriminate against gays?

  • Just to be clear, my reasons opposing gay marriage are more than merely concerns about religious freedom – though religious freedom is part of it.

    Think of this way: Would you support polygamous marriages? If not, then your reasons against polygamy would be alot like my reasons against gay marriage…if you do, then we fundamentally disagree even more.

  • LaurenceB
    “I suspect (and hope) that things like excluding gays from Church functions, adoption, etc. will similarly fall by the wayside.”

    I don’t think that will happen, because it is a doctrinal staple in the Christian, Muslim, & Jewish communities. Perhaps there will be more liberal religious folks that will quit fighting, but I bet you this fight will continue forever or until armageddon :) ..especially for the far right religious group. I should know I’m one of them.

  • LaurenceB
    “I suspect (and hope) that things like excluding gays from Church functions, adoption, etc. will similarly fall by the wayside.”

    I don’t think that will happen, because it is a doctrinal staple in the Christian, Muslim, & Jewish communities. Perhaps there will be more liberal religious folks that will quit fighting, but I bet you this fight will continue forever or until armageddon :) ..especially for the far right religious group. I should know I’m one of them.

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