John Andrews
To get at the devil, says the young zealot Will Roper in “A Man for All Seasons,” Robert Bolt’s play, “I’d cut down every law in England.”

Thomas More, the wise old churchman, comes back at him: “When the last law was down, and the devil turned round on you – where would you hide, the laws all being flat? Do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”

That’s the question someone should ask Colorado state Sen. Pat Steadman about the now-famous “Get thee to a nunnery” speech, in which he scornfully dismissed the constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion for anyone who may object to same-sex marriage or civil unions.

Persons of faith can “be as judgmental you like” toward homosexual people, said Steadman with biting sarcasm in the Colorado Senate on Feb. 8, provided you “go inside your church” and confine your religious practice there. Just don’t “claim that religion requires (you) to discriminate” outside the church walls.

It’s difficult to put ourselves in another’s shoes, especially on something as existential as sexuality. But I imagine that for gays – such as Pat Steadman, with whom I have worked amicably for years – it probably seems as if the age-old antipathy to them is indeed the devil’s doing and, as such, calls for severe measures in return.

But his civil unions bill, signed into law last week without a meaningful conscience clause to protect fellow citizens who believe, for example, that God wants an adopted child to have both a mother and a father, goes too far. Not only does its “cut down all” severity flatten our most precious right, religious freedom.

It also ultimately threatens the life and liberty of every American, gay or straight, atheist or God-fearing, for exactly the reason More gave Roper. Raw majoritarianism, exemplified in Steadman’s absolutist legislation and rhetoric, serves no one’s best interest in a free society – because endless paybacks are sure to ensue, “the laws all being flat.”

We have a constitution with stern prohibitions on what government shall not do to unpopular or outnumbered individuals and groups, precisely because zealous majorities are tempted to tyrannize the minority if left unchecked. This is what led to pastors in Canada and Sweden being convicted for criticizing homosexuality. It’s what led to Catholic adoptions in Boston shutting down, for lack of a conscience clause.

“Do as you like, inside your church,” or convent, or monastery, the terms of surrender proffered to religious people by Sen. Steadman on Feb. 8, would trade a genuine freedom of religion for a hollow, privatized freedom of worship.

John Andrews

John Andrews is former president of the Colorado Senate and the author of "Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen's Guide to the Next American Century"