Gay marriage violates freedom of religion?

I was reading a collection of essays by religious intellectuals and theologians, and a couple of them described the recent trend toward allowing gay marriage as the state interfering with the freedom of religion.

On the face of it, this seems absurd. After all, if the state recognizes a certain status for gay couples, including accompanying legal rights, how does this impede the freedom of religion? No one is forcing any religious community to perform marriage ceremonies for gay people. No religion is required to modify their doctrines about sexual morality. Marriage as a legal status is something in between the state and individual citizens.

But then, maybe that’s precisely the issue. Some of the opposition to gay marriage takes place in the context of the long-standing conservative religious resistance to secular liberalism’s individualism. Liberals bypass “intermediate institutions” such as religious communities that interpose themselves between the individual and the state. Conservative theologians continue to object to religious communities beıng relegated to the status of private associations with only minimal, typically contract-based coercive powers over individuals.

Therefore, religious thinkers who believe that defining marriage is something that belongs naturally to intermediate institutions would also think that state involvement in determining the legal status of gay couples is gross interference with the religious domain. And curiously, they show that they operate in the context of a liberal political environment in the very way they phrase their discomfort with gay marriage. They complain about violations of religious freedom. This freedom is not exactly individual freedom, since they conceive of freedom of religion in such a way as to privilege the interests of a community to propagate itself. But how that is supposed to work does not need to be spelled out. In a liberal context, the complaint about a violation of freedom itself will immediately have a rhetorical effect.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • LadyAtheist

    Sounds a little like the "states' rights" argument against the civil rights movement.

  • Nathaniel

    Whenever I hear someone suggest that allowing gay marriage infringes on someone's right to religious freedom it tends to revolve around the idea that all churches will be forced to perform and/or recognize such marriages. This is based on absolutely nothing. First, few to no people who are discriminated against by a specific religious doctrine would choose to get married by members of that doctrine. Secondly, if people have a "right to marry" then it is the state's responsibility to prove people with that right, only state marriages (such as those provided by a justice of the piece) will be forced to perform and recognize gay marriages. It might impose on their religious freedoms, but as a representative of the state, they cannot discriminate based on religious beliefs.

    What seem to fear is that the toleration of their religious bigotry is reduced every time the law seems to suggest that it's acceptable to belong to a group they discriminate against.