Same-sex marriage: Is religious liberty a “straw man”?

Street signs at the intersection of Church Ave. and State St.

This is the third post in a series on same-sex marriage. The first two are here and here

I keep reading that same-sex marriage presents absolutely no threat to freedom of religion. Here, for example, is an article from The Bilerico Project entitled “The ‘Religious Liberty’ Straw Man.” Rev. Emily C. Heath, arguing in defense of same-sex marriage, claims that:

. . . this whole religious liberty argument has been a straw man from the very start. A way to stir up public anger about a non-issue in order to thwart civil equality.

You can say anything you want, of course–the sky is polka-dotted, water is dry, the Cubs are gonna win the pennant–but that doesn’t make it true. And in this case, the facts paint a very different picture.

The idea that marriage is between a man and a woman is an important religious belief for many Americans. It’s linked in very fundamental ways to our understanding of bedrock issues of existence: who God is, who human beings are, and what our purpose in life is.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . . .

Many same-sex marriage advocates seem to think the Constitution protects freedom of worship. They act as if what’s protected is just the stuff that churches, synagogues and other religious organizations do when they meet, and the things people think in the privacy of their own hearts.

You’re free to run your worship service the way you want to, goes this argument. And you’re free to say your little prayers in your little heart any time you want to. Just don’t do or say anything in the public square that demonstrates your beliefs. That’s not protected.

But the Constitution protects, not just worship, but the free exercise of religion.

And, for at least three millenia, people have understood that where the rubber meets the road in your relationship with God is in your everyday life: in your home, finances, workplace, recreational choices and public life. (Seek justice, thundered the ancient Hebrew prophets. Defend the orphan. Plead for the widow. That’s true religion.)

And laws redefining marriage and family, especially when coupled with nondiscrimination statutes, are threatening religious, spiritual and ethical freedoms. Private businesses and private people are being forced to either sanction activities they believe to be immoral, or face stiff penalties.

These aren’t isolated cases. Private charities, small businesses and private people are increasingly being penalized for living out their religious convictions in the public arena.

The penalty on a couple who has to find another photographer, or on a client referred to another counselor, is pretty minimal, of course. But a fine, firing, expulsion or arrest can be devastating.

And notice: Who is trying to force their worldview on everyone else? We’ve been told for years that it’s the religious right. But what we’re actually seeing is that it’s proponents of same-sex marriage.

In each of these situations, and a number of others I could cite, the charity, business or individual penalized was making no attempt to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, adopting or engaging in sexual activity. In each case, they were simply trying to avoid personally participating in something they believed to be wrong.

Christians weren’t trying to force their worldview on others. Same-sex marriage proponents, however, were trying to silence all opposition.

A non-issue, Rev. Heath? Really? Tell that to the closed adoption agency, the fined photographer, the dismissed grad student, the fired employee and the jailed father.

What do you think? Is the religious liberty argument being made by proponents of traditional marriage a “straw man”? 

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