NOTE: This is the fourth column in a series of columns related to National Marriage Week, Feb. 7-14, 2013. The third column is available here.
Disagreements and projections abound in the dialogue about marriage and its redefinition to include same-sex couples. But both sides agree on one issue: redefining marriage significantly jeopardizes religious freedom—the first liberty upon which our nation was founded.
The convergence of several factors creates this unavoidable clash between religious liberty and redefining marriage. First, the vast majority of religious adherents in America believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. And because marriage is a core component of religious convictions—indeed, many spiritual traditions treat it as a holy sacrament—people of faith are not likely to change or disregard their views on this central question of conscience.
Second, marriage permeates our law and culture. Thus countless situations will require all citizens, including those who are religious, to affirm or facilitate a fundamentally redefined understanding of marriage.
Third, if the government declares that same-sex unions and opposite-sex unions equally constitute marriages, the law punishes and stigmatizes as “discriminatory” and “irrational” those who publicly espouse a view or conduct themselves in a manner that adheres to the traditional understanding of marriage.
History illustrates the persecution of, and an absence of tolerance for, those who engage in what the law has proclaimed to be irrational discrimination. The freedom of the religious faithful—particularly their freedom to participate in the public square—will thus be sacrificed in a society whose laws embrace a redefined view of marriage.
Legal scholars who favor redefining marriage agree that this religious-liberty conflict is real. Chai R. Feldblum, a law professor at Georgetown University and current EEOC commissioner, believes that advocates for redefining marriage have incorrectly “downplayed the impact of such laws on some people’s religious beliefs.” Renowned religious-liberty professor Doug Laycock and many others agree that conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious freedom are inevitable.
This crisis of conscience is not just a matter of legal theory; it is confirmed by real-world examples.