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The Controversy Continues

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The Controversy Continues: Can same-sex marriage and religious liberty co-exist?

By Nathan A. Cherry

                 Same-sex marriage. It is perhaps the most controversial and divisive topic in American culture at this time. It does not matter whether you are a democrat or republican, conservative or liberal, this topic is transcending party lines, denominational lines, and every other line in our society. People of different faiths find themselves on the same side of the issue. People of different political party are joining together on the issue. And the nation seems glued to the issue to see what will happen in the wake of the recent states’ passed marriage amendments, and as a result of the incoming president.

                But what I want to know is whether same-sex marriage and religious liberty can coexist? Is it possible for people who seem to be at a staunch disagreement on the issue to live peaceably with one another in everyday life? That was the subject of a recent Becket Fund research project published on their website.

                In the November 10th posting the Becket Fund reveals that they have surveyed over 1,000 state anti-discrimination laws “to assess how those laws would affect religious dissenters to same-sex marriage if same sex-marriage were legally recognized.”

                The short results seem to have disturbing implications for religious institutions and organizations that do not support same-sex marriage.  

“The study found that all 50 states prohibit gender discrimination in some way, and only 37 states have explicit religious exemptions to these provisions, many of them quite narrow. This lack of robust exemptions could become a problem if (as has happened in some instances) religious objections to same-sex marriage are treated as a kind of gender discrimination. In addition, 33 states prohibit at least some discrimination based on marital status, and only 13 of these states provide religious exemptions, some with a wide latitude of exemption, others with only narrow exemptions. Of the 20 states that prohibit sexual orientation-based discrimination, 18 provide exemption for religious objection.” (See article and results at The Becket Fund website).

                 So, if same-sex marriage were to be legalized, where do the rights of one group violate the rights of another? It seems we wade back into the murky waters of tolerance for one party with no tolerance for another. The proponents of same-sex marriage scream tolerance and demand equal rights and to have their “civil rights,” and yet, they do not have any intention of recognizing the religious rights of those who conscientiously object on moral grounds to same-sex marriage. This leads back to the previous question, can same-sex marriage and religious liberty co-exist?

                The Becket Fund concludes that trouble would follow religious institutions in the wake of legalizing same-sex marriage:

                “Based on the data, The Becket Fund concludes that if same-sex marriage is recognized by courts or legislatures, people and institutions that have conscientious objections to facilitating same-sex marriage will likely be sued under existing anti-discrimination laws – laws never intended for that purpose.”

                 This seems problematic to me for several reasons:

                1. If these religious, and even non-religious conscientious objectors, find themselves constantly being sued and in court, this will tie them, their time, and their money up and detract from the many very worthy causes and missions they support. One thing we can all agree on is the fact that many of these institutions do very good work fighting AIDS, hunger and poverty in many places around the world. I doubt anyone wants to see those works stopped or cut in half due to avoidable lawsuits.

                2. These are the same institutions and organizations that provide help, comfort, counseling, and support for many people right here at home in the neighborhoods and communities where we all live. They fight for parental rights, less government involvement in our lives, and more choices in areas like schools and health-care. With all this charitable work I doubt anyone would want to see such places closed.

                3. With an increase in lawsuits comes an increase in laws. It seems both sides of this debate would find more restrictions and laws placed upon them; something I can’t imagine either side wants.

                For these reasons I believe that we can all agree that seeing the institutions and organizations that reach out to poverty stricken families, starving kids, orphans, and war-torn countries tied up in courts with their funding cut is a bad idea for all of us. No one, regardless of political view or religious view would ever hope to see that happen.

                Is it possible that we could “agree to disagree” on the issue? Is it possible to see same-sex marriage legalized and allow those with a conscientious objection to be exempt from facilitating it? If I thought that proponents of same-sex marriage would be willing to foster this “live and let live” attitude then I might be inclined to say yes. But, with what we have seen in the aftermath of the passing of Proposition 8 in California I doubt that such a compromise is possible. No, it seems that same-sex marriage champions have an “all or nothing” mentality; which may be why they got nothing in the recent election.

                Some would say that the religious who are opposed to same-sex marriage are intolerant for not being willing to grant a “civil right” to others based on a religious, moral belief. But proponents of same-sex marriage seem just as intolerant for demanding that the religious violate their conscience and accept their lifestyle and “marriage.”

                So what is the answer? Where do the rights of two separate, very different groups live peaceably with one another and find a civil way to co-exist? If I had that answer I would be the biggest thing on You Tube right now, and be standing in front of every legislature and supreme-court I could. But I don’t have that answer, and I am not sure anyone does.

                Here is what I do know. We each should strive to live in peace and harmony with our neighbors no matter how different from us they are, and no matter where we stand on potentially divisive arguments. This is something that even the Bible tells us to do (see I Timothy 2:1-3).

                How would society change if respect and dignity was extended to each person we met? Just because we disagree does not mean we have to lash out and hate the opposition. Though I personally do not agree with the homosexual lifestyle, as it is opposed to my religious views, I do however love homosexuals and want to see them live a quiet and peaceful life; the same that I wish for my own family.

Food for Further Thought:

Proposition 8 and a “Gray” Moral Standard

Settling the Issue: Same-Sex Marriage IS NOT a Civil Right

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Written by Jeremy Dys

November 18, 2008 at 3:06 pm

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