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


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