Friday, June 8, 2012

Marriage, Society, and Religious Freedom

Marriage is based on the fullness of the human person, of which sexuality is an irreducible part.  Each person’s identity is inseparable from the reality of their body; each of us is a body-person.  That is a deeply personal reality and it means that loving as a human person means loving as a man or a woman.  The body and gender are not inconsequential, nor are they just tools to use towards pleasure. They are essential aspects of being human and of loving as a human person. 

The full physical communion that is marriage is also not just about legal sex, or the right to put someone’s name on a benefits package.  It is about a full and complete self-giving that looks to the generation that comes from that total self-giving.  It is about creating a stable environment for the children that will continue the human race – an environment where they learn what it means to be fully human. 

This is why states define marriage – marriage is intrinsically tied to the common good, and has a great social value.  Marriage is a public as well as a personal relationship.   A lifelong, faithful, and fruitful union between a husband and wife serves the good of the spouses, the good of the children who come from their union, and the good of society by ensuring that reproduction happens in a socially responsible way.   It is a microcosm of the ideal of the greater society when the family, in its loving interdependence, rejects selfish individualism, and seeks the common good. That the ideal is often not reached cannot be argued.  But neither can it be argued that society should not strive for the ideal.

Changing the legal definition of marriage causes thousands of changes.  The term “marriage” exists in family law, employment law, trusts and estates, healthcare law, tax law, property law, and many others.  These laws affect religious institutions: churches, religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals, and families.  Because of that, the re-defining of marriage by the State results in enormous conflict between the law and religious institutions and families, with the State apply sanctions for refusal to comply. Some of the areas affected:

1)       Compelled association – the government forces religious institutions to retain as leaders, employees, or members those who are in legalized same-sex “marriages”, or obligates wedding related businesses to provide services to those same-sex couples.
2)      Compelled provision of special services – the government forces religious institutions to extend the same benefits to same sex “married” couples as to heterosexual married couples.
3)      Punishment for speech – preaching, political action, or conversation reflecting moral opposition becomes actionable harassment, discrimination, or hate speech.
4)      Exclusion from accreditation and licensure – those who adhere to the traditional definition of marriage are excluded from participation in highly regulated professions as licenses are revoked and accreditation is lost.
5)      Exclusion from government funding, religious accommodations, and other benefits – those that adhere to the traditional definition of marriage are excluded from government grants and contracts to provide social services.

These threats have already started to come to pass:  the extension of married student housing to same-sex “married” couples (a Catholic college in MA); the extension of spousal employment benefits to same-sex “domestic partners” (Catholic Charities in Portland, ME); the loss of funding and licenses to provide adoptions for refusal to place with same-sex couples (Catholic Charities in Massachusetts and DC); the imposition of tax penalties for preaching about marriage amendments (Montana); the loss of state tax exempt status for a religiously-affiliated camp (New Jersey); the conviction for discrimination of professional photographers who refused, on religious grounds, to photograph a "commitment ceremony"(New Mexico). 

Canada legalized homosexual marriage in 2005, and there have now been more than legal 200 cases against opponents of same-sex marriage.  Calgary Bishop Fred Henry, for instance, was charged with human rights violations for sending a letter to the churches in his charge that simply restated the Church’s position on traditional marriage.  There are bills being put forth that would make it illegal for teachers in private, religious schools to criticize homosexual marriage.

Changing the definition of marriage has huge ramifications for society, not the least the ramifications to religious liberty in the United States.

I have freely drawn from and tried to condense from the much better written document "Frequently Asked Questions About the Defense of Marriage", published at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop's website   and from Jeffery Kuhner's Thursday commentary "State Sanctioned Anti-Christianity" from yesterday's Washington Times.


  1. Yep, the impacts run FAR beyond what folks think... And the backlash has not even begun!

  2. Replies
    1. Because the liberal profession of tolerance has small print: "As long as you agree with me."

  3. Been enjoying your series on marriage lately, PH. Keep up the good work.

  4. PH, setting aside Canada which does not have a first amendment and quite frequently engages in violations of civil rates via its oddly named Human Rights Commissions, a lot of the problems you note are side affects of legalizing the marriage as also being same-sex. Much of that would be avoided if the government simply had no definition of marriage at all nor being involved in the licensing of marriage. The rest are easily fought in court on the grounds of First Amendment violations (assuming the grants stem from the government and not third parties).

    1. Does not the government have some function in seeking the optimal stability of the community? I used polygamy as the most obvious example, but should the government simply allow a 13 yr old girl to marry a 30 yr old man? Many insist that a girl of that age is capable of making the decision to have an abortion - why not a decision to be married? How about an uncle-niece or aunt-nephew marriage?

    2. PH, a lot can be justified using the subjective of stability and good for the community. In fact, that is the very argument for ObamaCare.

      Now should the government protect individuals who may not be capable of making decisions, such as 13 year olds seeking marriage. Probably. Incest of consenting adults? Gross, but probably not.

    3. And then there's the issue of state=nation or state=state. But the states who have put this to referendum have consistently rejected non-traditional marriage, only to have the results overturned by a court.

    4. States have also banned guns, doesn't mean it was right.

    5. They've also banned murder and theft, which was right to do.

    6. PH, I think we are now reaching the point where we might be talking past each other. I owe you a serious rebuttal with non-terse messaging.

    7. You don't think one sentence a day per person constitutes a discussion?:-)