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-Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage: Implications for Religious Liberty

by Dr. D ~ June 26th, 2015


In a monumental decision by the slimmest of margins same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. The justices of Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 5-4 decision that the 14th Amendment applies in this case and homosexual marriage can no longer be banned in any state of the union.

Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority and concluded that religious liberty should not be affected. Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas disagree and do expect some problems for religious freedom coming out of this decision. The following are their statements on this issue. From Christianity Today:

Justice Anthony Kennedy…Regarding religious freedom:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. … In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate.

In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts writes:

Federal courts are blunt instruments when it comes to creating rights. … Today’s decision, for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty. Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution.

Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for dissenting religious practice. The majority’s decision imposing same-sex marriage cannot, of course, create any such accommodations. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.

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.

In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia argues that

"…the majority’s decision threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect."

Justice Clarence Thomas agreed in his dissent:

Although our Constitution provides some protection against such governmental restrictions on religious practices, the People have long elected to afford broader protections than this Court’s constitutional precedents mandate. Had the majority allowed the definition of marriage to be left to the political process—as the Constitution requires—the People could have considered the religious liberty implications of deviating from the traditional definition as part of their deliberative process. Instead, the majority’s decision short-circuits that process, with potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.

<Read the whole article>

Response: This result has been expected for some time. Four of the justices have chosen to actually write about the possible effects of this decision on religious liberty. If it were not a real possible problem no one would have referred to it all.

Obviously, churches, mosques, and synagogues and their ministry will not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. Official religious practice in places of worship will continue to be protected. However, if the worship facilities are sometimes ‘rented’ out or use fees are collected for marriage ceremonies, then it might be an issue.

The real problems arise with allied miniseries and religious institutions like hospitals, colleges, and other ministries like adoption agencies. Justice Roberts noted that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions might be affected. Also if federal money is going to a college or university in the form of student loans, student housing might be forced to recognize same-sex couples. These were all issues admitted as possible problems by Obama’s Solicitor General. In addition, since same-sex marriages are now legal all across the country and must be recognized everywhere, all employee benefits including health and life insurance must now reflect that new reality.

Those business owners who provide any kind of marriage related services are now on notice that they will need to provide for same-sex celebrations or incur legal problems in the future. Here’s another occupation or business that might be affected in the future- Lawyers. If a law practice offers representation in divorce cases will Christian attorneys be compelled to offer their services in same-sex divorces? Just a thought.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the future. Actually at this point we have no idea what the full ramifications of this decision might be when it comes to religious liberty. We can only speculate. Will the Obama administration or some future administration use this ruling to come against religious institutions in the future? That seems to be the concern of at least three justices today.                *Top

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11 Responses to -Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage: Implications for Religious Liberty

  1. mark

    Yes, of course this ruling has implications for how public institutions are run. There is no requirement for people as individuals to not practice their religion as they see fit, but when that religion becomes a public matter those religious rights are now limited, and so what. You can’t discriminate on the basis of age or ethnicity and now marriage status is added to that list.

  2. Dr. D

    mark, from your perspective, what constitutes a ‘public institution’? Are private Christian or Muslim schools that receive government funds through student loans then ‘public’? What about Churches and synagogues or non-profit ministries? Are they ‘public’ since they receive tax relief? If so then religious liberty is only a matter of personal thought or belief and not actual public practice.

  3. mark

    Any place where private meets public intent, yes, churches et al. You can’t refuse a person because of race, it’s the same concept with gays.

  4. Brian

    Mark: The Constitution says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

    By your interpretation, however, whenever “private meets public”, all religious beliefs must conform to the mandates of secular society.

    What, then, is left of the constitutional right to freedom of religion? Could the government not mandate ANY belief or practice and compel a religious group to conform? What would prohibit the government, then, from mandating that all religious groups endorse abortion on demand? Or, in the interests of equality, all religious groups must teach that all religions are equally valid? Or impose upon religious groups any other concept that happened to be the “hot social” topic de jure, involving issues that we cannot even anticipate today?


  5. Mark

    No, people can’t be discriminated against for certain reasons, it has nothing to do with religion being controlled beyond that.

  6. Dr. D

    Thanks mark, really do appreciate your comments, even if I disagree with them, since I am sure they represent a lot of folks in America today and helps to better identify the problems we face.

    However, religions by their very nature and existence are designed to discriminate in some ways or another. Churches may open their doors for all comers and do welcome everyone but they all have membership requirements and leaders and pastors all must conform to a defined set of beliefs and rules that do in fact discriminate.

    Also mosques and orthodox synagogues discriminate against women forcing them to worship only in the back section. And when it comes to mosques, gay folks are not even welcome. Plus when it comes to LDS (Mormon) temples only faithful tithes paying members are allowed in.

  7. mark

    Yes, understood, and it’s unfortunate that someone wins at another’s lost. Win-win is always better.

  8. Brian

    Look for a barrage of new regulations related to LGBT marriage (and related matters) from the Obama administration as his term in office ticks down to the end.

  9. mark

    Long live Obama and his policies.

  10. Dr. D

    LOL, at least we have an election next year (Unless SCOTUS rules against it)!

  11. mark

    That could happen!

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