Time is Running-out on Religious Lliberty

Gay rights proponents are going for a total victory, and they will eventually target the tax-exempt status of religious organizations—including churches

There is one area of disagreement that I would register with Dreher’s analysis. Dreher seems to agree with prevailing conservative opinion that no matter how much religious liberty is lost in the public space, traditional marriage supporters would still be safe to promote their views within their houses of worship. I don’t believe that for one minute. All it will take is a little time and intolerance before pressure is brought upon houses of worship as well.

 

Rod Dreher has a must-read article about gay marriage and religious liberty in The American Conservative. He shows that the battle over the definition of marriage has largely been lost, and there’s not much that can be done about it now. Religious conservatives are conceding that legal gay marriage is inevitable. As a result, conservatives are turning their attention most urgently to the threat that legal gay marriage poses to religious liberty. Dreher writes:

In the courts, and in the court of public opinion, the momentum towards same-sex marriage has been clear. A consensus is emerging on the right that the most important goal at this stage is not to stop gay marriage entirely but to secure as much liberty as possible for dissenting religious and social conservatives while there is still time.

To do so requires waking conservatives up to what may happen to them and their religious institutions if current trends continue—and Catholic bishops, say, come to be regarded as latter-day Bull Connors.

Will religious conservatives be seen as no better than racist bullies in the emerging settlement? Despite what you haven’t heard—the news media’s silence on religious liberty threats from same-sex marriage is deafening—this is not slippery-slope alarmism. The threat is real.

The threat is indeed a real and present danger, and Christians and other religious persons need to win as many concessions as possible before it’s too late. Gay marriage activists are well on their way to a total conquest. And when they have won the day, they will make no concessions for the conscience rights of those who hold to traditional marriage. Why won’t the activist accommodate religious liberty concerns? The answer is really simple. Dreher writes:

To gay marriage supporters, homosexuality is, like race, a morally neutral condition. Opponents disagree, believing that because homosexuality, like heterosexuality, has to do with behavior, it cannot be separated from moral reflection. As Gallagher put it in a 2010 paper in Northwestern University’s law journal, “Skin color does not give rise to a morality.”

The problem for traditionalists is that the sexual revolution taught Americans to think of sexual desire as fundamental to one’s identity. If this is true, then aside from extreme exceptions (e.g., pedophilia), stigmatizing desire, like stigmatizing race, denies a person’s full humanity. To do so would be an act of blind animosity.

Though she appealed in that same law journal paper to the magnanimity of gay rights supporters, Gallagher acknowledged that their confidence that homosexuality is no different from race would make compromise morally indecent. Americans, she wrote, “do not draft legislative accommodations for irrational hatred.”

And this is why time is of the essence. We must sue for these protections now before the pendulum swings completely.

[Robbie] George writes that [traditional marriage supporters] have to win this battle entirely or be crushed everywhere, as segregationists were, and for the same reason: their views will be deemed too abhorrent to be tolerated. On this view, preserving religious liberty cannot be separated from preserving traditional marriage…

Twice in the last decade, the Supreme Court found that laws restricting gay rights were based entirely on animus and served no rational purpose. If the justices apply this reasoning to the core of marriage law, religious conservatives may well find little asylum outside the walls of their churches.

Hence the urgency of marriage activists on religious liberty. Though same-sex marriage is almost certainly the wave of the future, the country isn’t there yet. In states where marriage equality is still under contention, traditionalists could take advantage of this divide to negotiate a settlement that both sides can live with—one that protects both religious institutions and religious individuals. Time is on the gay-rights side, but its more pragmatic leaders may be persuaded that achieving basic marriage equality now is worth granting substantial protections to religious dissenters.

There is one area of disagreement that I would register with Dreher’s analysis. Dreher seems to agree with prevailing conservative opinion that no matter how much religious liberty is lost in the public space, traditional marriage supporters would still be safe to promote their views within their houses of worship. I don’t believe that for one minute. All it will take is a little time and intolerance before pressure is brought upon houses of worship as well. Again, gay rights proponents are going for a total victory, and they will eventually target the tax-exempt status of religious organizations—including churches. There will be no safe place to hide on this one.

Again, Dreher’s article is a must-read, and I hope it motivates religious conservatives to press their democratic privileges in favor of religious liberty while there’s still time.

Denny Burk is Associate Professor of New Testament and Dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminar. He blogs on matters concerning politics, theology and culture. This article is used with his permission.