It didn’t take long for the lawyers who want to normalize gay marriage to go back to court after Obergefell v. Hodges, to the cheers of the LGBT community. This should come as no surprise, as the Obergefell majority shot but a fleeting glance toward faith-motivated Americans who value marriage as a union of one man and one woman. But as the dust settles, the question remains: in this new legal environment will religious liberty survive?
Look no further than Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis who this past week invoked “God’s Authority” as her reason for not issuing a marriage license to a gay couple. The embattled official released a statement saying, “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision … I was elected by the people to serve as the County Clerk. I intend to continue to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience.”
The response of the courts? Jail time for the elected, Democratic Party official for refusing to violate her conscience, and while she was just released, the threat of returning hangs over her head. Clearly this will not be a disagreement easily resolved as seen by the vitriol heaped on those who do not embrace gay marriage. Such anger comes in part from activists who assume bigotry and a lack of grace on the part of religious people toward gays, equating disagreement with malice, even when none exists.
Today, much of the same-sex marriage debate centers on liberty, with the debate now encompassing religious liberty. Liberty can range from a license to follow every urge without consequence (possibly chaos) to the ability to make dignified decisions within an ordered moral framework. No matter the definition, however, to extend liberty to LGBT individuals while revoking it for religious individuals and faith-based organizations runs fundamentally contrary to the principles of toleration and pluralism that progressives preach before they have power.
Though same-sex marriages must be formally recognized in all 50 states, a formal de-recognition of any institution that defines marriage traditionally is not mandated. After all, the contention of those supporting gay marriage was that a proverbial “big tent” should include marriage for all.
Unfortunately, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli stated during oral arguments that the question of whether religious institutions can keep their tax-exempt status was “going to be an issue.” In fact, the ink was hardly dry on Obergefellwhen activists were calling for tax deductions to be stripped from faith-based communities.
In Time Magazine, Mark Oppenheimer wrote: “Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argue that if we got rid of them charitable giving would drop. It surely would, although how much, we can’t say. But of course government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry.”
In a free society, accommodations for religious practice should be not only allowed, but also welcomed, given the interests of diversity and pluralism and the need for mutual respect.
As an inspiring example of this type of toleration, lesbian Courtney Hoffman’s donation to Memories’ Pizza when they became the focus of activists’ scorn after comments made in favor of traditional marriage brought grateful tears from the store’s owner, Crystal O’Connor.
In an interview with Breitbart, Hoffman said, “The gay community that we know knows full well what it’s like to be condemned for doing nothing but living your life according to your beliefs. We know so many gay individuals that fully support the freedom of living your life according to your beliefs and feel that freedom extends to everyone, even the people that we don’t agree with.”
Hoffman’s graciousness allows her to show respect to others who hold different views from her own. This kind of religious freedom was foundational for America as people endured harsh conditions to build the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Yet will those whose identity includes their faith and the centuries-long definition of marriage, be allowed to act on that belief or even speak of it in years to come?
Chief Justice John Roberts unfortunately does not hold out much hope, writing in his Obergefell dissent:
“Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”
It’s important in the midst of these turbulent times for the Church’s attitude and actions toward LGBT individuals to be characterized by love. This means affirming the incredible worth and value that LGBT individuals bring to society, as do all people, because they bear the image of God. It means reaching out to share the honest friendship of Christ and build bridges. Instead of an adversarial approach, we should make room for civil discussion and differing viewpoints, as this is an important feature of not only the pluralistic society America claims to be but also the church’s evangelical mission.
People of faith and the LGBT community can coexist, though this will take some maneuvering and some tolerance. We should hope that voices that cherish America and its principles more than their own perspective will prevail. To love our neighbors as ourselves is a command for everyone.
David Nammo is Executive Director & CEO of the Christian Legal Society, a national organization of attorneys and law students. Follow @CLS_HQ