July 10, 2015

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

People of faith may be marginalized in future public discussions on marriage

Sean GallagherAbout two months ago, I wrote a reflection in The Criterion in which I encouraged people on both sides of the marriage debate in our country to be respectful in their discussions and to keep from framing their opponents and their views as having no place in society.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26 in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges may have ended the legal aspects of this discussion by expanding the law’s definition of marriage to include couples of the same sex. The discussion of this topic more broadly, however, will continue.

It’s similar to what happened after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. That ruling legalized abortion across the country. But it didn’t stop the debate about the morality of abortion.

I am concerned, however, that the discussion on marriage may be stifled in the months and years to come. The prevailing culture praises advocates of marriage redefinition and scorns its opponents. This cultural milieu, combined with the legal precedent established in Obergefell, could lead employers and governments at the local, state and national levels to marginalize individuals and religious institutions that continue to hold that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

It would appear that I’m not alone in my concerns. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, in a dissenting opinion in the Obergefell case, stated that “that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

Justice Alito did not dream up such dangers out of thin air. During the April 28 oral arguments in the Obergefell case, he asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argued in favor of marriage redefinition, if religious schools that held that marriage is a union between one man and one woman might have their tax exempt status revoked, just as Bob Jones University in South Carolina lost such status in the 1980s when it continued its prohibition of interracial dating among its students. Verrilli admitted that this was “going to be an issue.”

Hopefully, this “issue” will be quickly resolved when government officials with the authority to withhold an institution’s tax exempt status (and to take other punitive actions) will recognize the fundamental difference between condemning interracial dating and marriage and holding that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

Prohibiting interracial dating and marriage, while repugnant, does not touch on the fundamental meaning of marriage (at least as understood through millennia and in countless cultures), which includes openness to the creation of new life and the raising of children by both a mother and a father.

I am concerned about the ability of people of faith who disagree with the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling to participate in ongoing public discussions about marriage and family life because I agree with the Church that these two matters are the foundation of our society as a whole.

And history has shown that people of faith have done much to build up strong marriages and families. Why silence their voices at a time when so many marriages and families are struggling and breaking apart?

Hopefully employers and government leaders will see the wisdom in fostering this discussion and not restricting the religious liberty of faithful citizens who want to be a part of it. Hopefully all participants in this discussion will treat everyone in it with respect. †

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