Steve Chapman

It's a bit rich for these groups to complain that the court is infringing on their freedom to infringe on the freedom of gays. Advocates of same-sex marriage are not trying to exclude heterosexuals from matrimony. They are only asking to be free to practice it, as well.

But opponents charge that churches will be forced to host same-sex weddings and their clergy will be required to perform them. Churches that refuse, they say, may be stripped of their tax-exempt status.

The likelihood that any of these fears will come to pass ranges from minimal to zero. State laws allow divorce, but Catholic priests haven't been forced to preside at the weddings of divorced Catholics. Employment discrimination laws haven't been applied to end bans on female clergy. Nor have such internal church polices led to the loss of standard tax exemptions.

The only real friction comes in areas where religious institutions provide public accommodations or act as agents of government. A Methodist organization in New Jersey lost a special tax break for an open-air pavilion after it refused to let a lesbian couple use it for a civil union ceremony. Catholic Charities abandoned the adoption business in Illinois rather than work with same-sex couples in civil unions.

Those cases may represent good or bad policy, but they're not a new thing. A hotel owner who objects to integration on religious grounds can't bar access to blacks. An organization taking state money for state contracts has to comply with state policies. Lawmakers will have plenty of these peripheral issues to argue about, but the idea that believers will suffer rank oppression is a fantasy.

The only liberty they will lose is the liberty to deprive others of their liberty. Sorry, but that's one freedom a free society doesn't offer.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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