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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Gay Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts

Here are a few more interesting findings from the Faith in Public Life poll on Young Adults and the Election:

Younger white evangelicals strongly oppose abortion rights but are less conservative and more supportive of same-sex marriage than older evangelicals. Young white evangelicals are strongly opposed to abortion rights, with two-thirds saying abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Yet, less than a majority (49%) of younger evangelicals identify as conservative, compared to nearly two-thirds (65%) of older evangelicals. Among young evangelicals, a majority favor either same-sex marriage (24%) or civil unions (28%), compared to a majority (61%) of older evangelicals who favor no legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships.

Generation gap on same-sex marriage is large and increasing. Nearly half (46%) of young adults say gay couples should be allowed to marry, compared to only 29% of Americans overall. Over the last two years, support for same-sex marriage among young adults has jumped 9 points (from 37% to 46%), and the generation gap has nearly doubled.

In my opinion, this is a positive statistic. When this subject comes up, I make no secret that I am in favor of extending legal recognition to those in same-sex relationships. It’s nice to see that among evangelicals, I am not alone and actually with the majority! I’m inclined to agree with Baptist ethicist David Gushee who recently wrote: “If we are right in drawing a link between making good laws and loving our neighbors, what then does neighbor love require in relation to the homosexual neighbors who seek marriage or a similar status?”

For me and a majority of young evangelicals, the answer is to support policies that help end gay bashing, respect gay civil rights and show genuine Christian charity toward homosexuals.

Addressing religious liberty concerns strongly increases support for same-sex marriage. When respondents were provided with an assurance that “no church or congregation would be required to perform marriages for gay couples,” support for same-sex marriage increased by 14 points in the general population and among younger adults.

Let me throw this out there first: I'm currently working on several papers - one of which is explores the very real emerging conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty. The problem with the finding above is the implication that all or even most religious liberty concerns can actually be addressed with the assurance that "no church or congregation would be required to perform marriages for gay couples."

First, it is absolutely ludicrous to assert that the legalization of same-sex marriage will result in pastors being forced to perform such ceremonies. Ain’t gonna happen.

Nonetheless, there are a host of church-state conflicts that are likely to emerge as a result of more states following the lead of Massachusetts and California. Conflicts have already emerged between gay rights and religious liberty which affect housing, employment, places of public accommodation, medical and pharmacy services, commercial licensing, government funding, access to government property, freedom of speech, and religion clubs in public schools and universities. Some scholars fear that tax exemptions will be politicized and efforts will be made to revoke the tax exemptions of churches that aren’t gay-friendly. However, other scholars sense that as long as “historically important churches refuse to recognize gay marriages,” it remains highly unlikely that any executive-level government official will attempt to travel down that path. As legal scholars from the left, right and center recently demonstrated, the conflict between same-sex marriage and religious liberty is truly unavoidable.

Solutions are never easy. But, I believe, such conflicts can largely be avoided or dealt with through religious exemptions. As gay-rights laws are enacted, religious exemptions must be granted. Failure to grant religious exemptions will greatly hurt our First Freedom and ultimately elevate the principle of nondiscrimination over religious freedom.

There is another solution to this same-sex marriage – religious liberty conflict that I prefer and I am currently exploring in my paper. I call it the “Tony Campolo Solution.” Tony has long argued that “government should get out of the marrying business completely.” Centrist legal scholars like Douglas Laycock and Oliver Thomas have recently advocated “separating church and state in marriage” in order to reduce conflict over same-sex marriage. Both men would like to separate legal from religious marriage in law and in public understanding. Marriage is both a religious institution and a religious relationship AND a legal institution and a legal relationship. Laycock points out that “the legal relationship defines property rights, mutual duties of support, inheritance rights, tax liabilities, evidentiary privileges, rights to sue for personal injury or file for bankruptcy, claims to pensions, social security, and insurance benefits” and much more. So here’s Laycock’s solution which I’d call a more developed version of what Tony Campolo has spent years advocating for:

We should leave the word “marriage” to its religious meaning, and use the new phrase “civil union” to describe the relationship formerly known as civil or legal marriage. “Civil unions” should not be a second-class status for same-sex couples; civil union should be the legal relationship created by the state for straight couples – and for gays and lesbians in states that choose to legally recognize committed same-sex relationships. “Marriage” should be reserved for private and religious relationships, and the state should have nothing to do with it….In a religiously pluralistic society, we must have an account of legal marriage that works for believers and nonbelievers alike.

Laycock continues:

What would it mean to fully separate religious marriage from secular civil unions? Clergy could perform marriages within each faith tradition, but they could not perform civil unions. Civil unions would be created in a secular ceremony led by a judge, a notary public, or a clerk at city hall. Civil unions could be ended by civil courts that would sort out property rights, economic obligations and child custody. Marriages could be ended only within the religious tradition that performed the marriage. Each faith could maintain its own rules and marriage tribunals for its adherents. Or if a church chose, it could defer to the state’s decisions about any civil union between the same partners. But then it would have only itself to blame if it didn’t like the state’s decisions.

You can read Douglas Laycock’s full argument in the newly released book, Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts.

Also check out Oliver “Buzz” Thomas’s recent USA Today op-ed titled “Gay Marriage: A Way Out.”



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like the map to a return to Babylon. Won't that be great! (Not!) mom2

8:38 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

What a thoughtful contribution to this thread! You truly are a thinker.

10:14 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't like to be this way BDW, but since you enjoy it: It seems you think no farther than the length of your arm to your billfold. I hate to burst your bubble, but God will be God and a day of reckoning is coming for our choosing a Godless society. mom2

12:05 PM

Blogger TheoPoet said...

Indeed Religious Liberty is part of the conflict but it is where I find my views: TheoPoetic Musings: 08-08-08 At 8 P.M.: My Cousin's Wedding. I agree with you about Campolo's thoughts---didn't he also in effect talk about the government's quasi-religious language?

12:51 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...


You thoroughly enjoy being the pain that you are...

When 90+ percent of Americans believe in "God" - how can you claim that we have a "Godless society"

Seems someone has demonstrated that they can't think "farther than the length of [their] arm to [their] billfold"

1:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a bit confused about Compolo's solution. Does the set of all civil unions include the set of all marriages, or are these sets completely separate?

3:17 PM

Anonymous Lee said...

I see some problems inherent in Campolo's solution, things which might not be visible now, considering that there would be many marriages performed in a religious context without civil unions, and vice versa. I can't imagine the difficulties that would arise out of easily dissolved civil unions where there are children involved.

What "younger people" are thinking with regard to same sex partnerships is completely irrelevant to God's truth regarding such relationships. Truth is revealed, not discerned by an opinion poll, and I don't see that extending legal recognition to same sex relationships is a Biblically endorsed means of loving one's neighbor.

9:06 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Dissolving a civil union (getting a divorce) would not necessarily be easier or harder. The individual state obviously will set those laws. Getting a divorce is pretty dang easy these days anyways. A couple states like Louisiana have enacted voluntary "covenant marriage" laws which makes dissolving the union much more difficult. Thus far, however, not many folks in LA have made the decision to travel down that path....

If a couple with kids wanted to dissolve their civil union, the civil courts (as Laycock demonstrates) would sort that out as they do now. If a couple (with kids) who were married by their church but had not sought a civil union from the state split up, the state would sort that out in Family Court as well. There are obviously thousands and thousands of unwed parents in America.

If marriage truly is a sacred and a religious institution, government should not be in the business of determining who can and can not get married and receive the legal benefits of marriage.

There will obviously be issues relating to conflicts between religious liberty and increased gay rights. But as Jonathan Turley, Oliver Thomas and Douglas Laycock have all argued, separating religious from civil marriage is the best solution to this debate.

In my opinion, loving one's neighbor requires that we support public policies that promote the principles of equality, fairness and which serve the common good. One need not affirm a particular type of relationship in order to affirm their right to enter into that type of relationship. Similarly, respect for religious freedom does not demand that we affirm the theology of Muslims and Jews. But respect for religious freedom does require that we affirm the right of the Muslim and the Jew to believe as they do.

10:07 PM

Blogger Georgia Mountain Man said...

This is a difficult issue. I lean toward Laycock. Separate the two and let each handle its own issues, but allow the church to defer to the courts. I can't imagine, however, what this would do to a church, when a couple had supporters on each side. Boy would we have a lot of new churches. If churches can break up over the budget or the preacher, can you imagine the mess that a nasty divorce would create?

It is an issue that is not going away and must be resolved. Dark, tunneled vision fundamentalism like mom2's will not solve it. Maybe as these younger people move into the mainstream, there will be a more likely softening of the church's view and some resolution can take place.

6:24 AM

Anonymous Lee said...

I think it would be extremely difficult to advocate for something that redefines marriage in a manner that is completely inconsistent with Christian faith on the one hand, as an act of "loving your neighbor," and then be able to address the spiritual condition of the individuals involved in a same-sex relationship on the other hand. "Loving your neighbor" means that you care about their spiritual condition and their relationship with God. When two individuals of the same sex decide to enter into a relationship that is a replacement for a marriage, that is a choice they have made, knowing the law does not recognize that arrangement. Changing the law to accomodate their situation is not the same as according religious freedom to Muslims or Jews. This isn't an issue of religious liberty, it is one of morality, and I believe for Christians to advocate for civil unions is to diminish the role of being a loving neighbor in that it sends a conflicting message and makes it difficult to address the situation from a Biblical perspective. These things can be approached without the judgemental, condemning attitude and at the same time without doing something that constitutes an endorsement of the lifestyle.

8:49 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

"This isn't an issue of religious liberty, it is one of morality"

If marriage is a "holy union" and considered a sacrament (as it historically has been by large numbers of Christians) then denying a same-sex couple the opportunity to enter into such a legal relationship with the state is indeed a religious liberty issue. And the question is, whose morality? Several religious denominations are already proponents of same-sex marriage. Efforts to keep same-sex couples from entering into a legal marriage give some religious traditions favored treatment. The question of "whose morality?" disappears when the state gets out of the marriage business, to paraphrase Campolo.

When a religious ritual is at the center of a public controversy, you'll be hard-pressed to make an argument that there are not also religious liberty concerns.

"I think it would be extremely difficult to advocate for something that redefines marriage in a manner that is completely inconsistent with Christian faith on the one hand, as an act of "loving your neighbor," and then be able to address the spiritual condition of the individuals involved in a same-sex relationship on the other hand."

No, not extremely difficult. I am 100% in favor of civil rights for all Americans especially African-Americans. But, if a pastor wants to preach that inter-racial marriage is sinful, I support their right to do so. That's a religious liberty issue as well. My Christian faith makes no room for such blatant racism. I can continue to address the issue of racism in church and if I were a pastor would do so from the pulpit. But, I don't have to advocate the suppression of the right to be a racist (religiously-motivated racism) because I believe in religious freedom for all including those whose beliefs I despise.

11:35 AM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Now that the CT Supreme Court has said that Civil Unions aren't enough, but that (civil, secular) marriage must be allowed for same-sex couples under the CT Constitution, it becomes the 3rd state to affirm this: After MA and CA. (The political strategist in me is glad that this is late enough not to affect the national political races!)

This will be harder in KY since, in '04, KY was one of many states to panic over MA and amend its Constitution to rule out both same-sex marriage and "marriage-like arrangements." However, GLBT folks have made gains even here: Louisville and Lexington have adopted "Fairness Amendments" to their civil rights codes which prevent discrimination against GLBT folks in job hiring and promotion and in housing (with religious liberty exceptions for faith groups--unless they take Caesar's coin) and there is growing support for this to be adopted at the state level (though also much oppostion). The KY Supreme Court upheld the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky extending health benefits, etc. to domestic partners in same-sex relationships.

1:23 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im glad to know that I am not the only Baptist that has struggled with this. I blogged about it back when California began preforming their first ceremonies.

I'm torn because of my convictions on morality, but also the Baptist side of me that believes in liberty and separation of church and state. I couldn't fathom how the government could tell a church to preform a marriage for a same sex couple if the church or denomination is not in favor. Although I decided there needed to be a distinction between religious and civil services, I had not thought of a solution like Dr. Campolo. I think I need to mull over this for a few days. But good going BDW.

10:57 PM

Anonymous Karen G said...

This idea would take a major cornerstone of stable, civil society -- marriage -- out of general society and restrict it to a drastically smaller population: church.

Not all churches, just some. Many churches will take their emphasis on equality and fairness right into church, to their members, and offer same sex marriage, partly because the government won't. Some will risk scorn by clinging to Biblical, heterosexual marriage.

Our children and grandchildren will be surrounded by civil unions. To choose church marriage in a church which only performs heterosexual marriage would be increasingly uncommon, a minority, somewhat quaint, using unenlightened, sexist terms like husband and wife, bride and groom.

Bride and groom. Church and Christ. One day that beautiful concept may become almost impossible to explain.

I like Doug Laycock, he was one of my best professors. But I'll have to heartily disagree.

12:04 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


It sounds like your complaint is that without government support, the institution of marriage will wither and die, and with it a powerful metaphor for Christ's love.

What does it say about the strength of an institution if the only way it can survive is by direct government support? About the ability of Christ's love to be understood?

Surely Christ's love is more transcendent than such temporal concerns.

9:07 PM

Anonymous Karen G said...

It says we are prone to wander.

Marriage would survive, perhaps even thrive among some, but a smaller segment of society IMO.

We could also remove government endorsement of child support and let the institution of parenting stand on its own, unpropped. But I get your point.

12:10 PM


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