Okay, this one is going to get me into hot water.
First of all, this is NOT a post about whether the Supreme Court should strike down the Defense of Marriage Act(DOMA) signed into law by by Bill Clinton and, until recently, supported by President Obama. Nor is it a post about whether gay marriage is actually a sin or not. It’s not even a post about what I think about gay marriage, and I’m really not trying to find out what you think about gay marriage.
Instead, this is a post about balancing two constitutional rights that are in opposition to one another, and trying to resolve that contradiction, preferably without name-calling and intolerance on either side.
Yeah, I know; I’m an optimist…
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the SCOTUS decides that the DOMA is unconstitutional, and goes further and strikes down all state laws barring gay marriage. In their decision, they decree that all LGBTQ folks have the right to marry one another in whatever combination makes them happy.
Right or wrong, good or bad, the decision is made and it is for the legalization of gay marriage.
Now let me ask you a few questions concerning the results of such a decision.
- Would any person who officiates a marriage be required to provide that service to any couple, gay or straight, regardless of the officiant’s religious beliefs?
- Would any person who officiates a marriage be required to provide that service to any couple, gay or straight, regardless of the religious beliefs of the order which ordained him/her?
- Would any order which refuses to condone and/or conduct weddings for gay couples be subject to losing their designation as a religious institution under US law, thus losing their tax exempt status?
- Would any person who provides wedding services, i.e. caterers, florists, musicians, etc be required to provide those services to any couple, gay or straight, regardless of the religious beliefs of the provider?
These are not just rhetorical questions, but demonstrate the real world ramifications of a broad SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage. After all, we’ve already seen some of the things I describe above happen.
- An inn in Vermont was fined a total of $30,000 and barred from hosting any wedding receptions for refusing to host a lesbian wedding reception.
- A wedding photographer In New Mexico was fined $7000 for refusing to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.
- A florist in Richland Washington is embroiled in controversy and facing potential prosecution for refusing to supply flowers for a gay wedding.
- On the flip side, a Knoxville, Tn restaurant refused to serve a State Senator because of his stand against teaching about homosexuality in grade school. The owner faces no legal action.
In light of the way the current administration has denied religious exemptions to religious organizations for its contraception health care mandates, even those directly connected to churches, isn’t it at least conceivable that they might do the same in this case? Isn’t it possible that the federal government could rule that Catholic priests would be forced to perform weddings for gay couples if they wanted to continue to perform weddings for straight couples?
And would you be okay with that?
How would you justify that with regard to the First Amendment protection of the free expression of religion? After all, we know that there are plenty of officiants who will be happy to perform a gay marriage, as well as florists, caterers, etc. Would honoring the religious convictions of those who refuse be enough of an inconvenience to justify abrogating their Constitutionally recognized rights?
We say we tolerate religious expression and the freedom of religion; do we really mean that? Or are we just saying that to sound good to ourselves and our friends?
If we are going to infringe on a Constitutionally protected right, like the free exercise of religion, shouldn’t we as a nation have to demonstrate that failure to infringe would result in worse damage to another right? And do we meet that test here?
I know what I think; I want to know what you think. How would you answer the questions, and more importantly, how would you justify your answers?