Same Sex Marriage Inevitable; Churches Must Seek Legal Protections

Same Sex Marriage Inevitable; Churches Must Seek Legal Protections February 19, 2015

Image by Cunaplus, courtesy of
Image by Cunaplus, courtesy of

by Russell Shaw

The likelihood that the Supreme Court next June will announce its discovery of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage raises an obvious question for the Catholic Church: What do we do now?

Two steps come to mind. First, press for strong legal protections for individuals and institutions conscientiously unable to cooperate with a legal regime that requires sweeping concessions to the LGBT agenda. Second, give serious thought to the possibility that the Church should quit serving as the government’s agent in legitimating marriages.

That firm decisions at the top levels of the Church are urgently needed couldn’t be more obvious. Consider a Washington Post editorial trashing Alabama authorities for resisting a Supreme Court order on behalf of gay marriage in that state. The court told Alabama to get cracking even though the court itself remains months away from a constitutional ruling.

“The [gay rights] movement is on the verge of a historic victory,” the February 11 editorial declared. “But that doesn’t mean activists and allies have succeeded in transforming the culture that for so long denied gay men and lesbians equal treatment.”

Transforming culture? Of course. The Post editorial noted some steps to take.

“Marriage equality is just one of many goals. State legislatures and federal lawmakers need to be convinced to enhance civil rights protections for gay men and lesbians—prohibiting employment discrimination, for example, or discrimination in business transactions. In places like Alabama, that will take a lot more effort.”

One form it’s already taken can be seen not in conservative Alabama but libertarian Oregon. There the Christian owners of a bakery were found guilty of violating anti-discrimination law by declining—in 2013, before the state even recognized same-sex marriage—to supply a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. Bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein cited religious convictions as their reason.

According to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the Kleins face fines as high as $150,000. The actual amount will be decided in March. A hundred and fifty thousand for a wedding cake? Is this the Post’s “a lot more effort”? Iron-clad legal protection against state coercion to fall in line with gay marriage is desperately needed for individuals like the Kleins and institutions like the Catholic Church.

It won’t be easy. The Catholic News Agency (CAN) reports that the Ford and Arcus Foundations have given several million dollars to the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to devise ways of blocking the religious freedom argument for not cooperating with same-sex marriage. If religious groups want First Amendment protections, they’ll have to fight.

Urgently needed, too, is consideration of whether the Church should stop registering marriages for the state. Increasingly, it becomes hard to see how the Church can continue as government’s collaborator in this matter once the Supreme Court makes it final that what the government means by marriage is opposed to what the Church means.

Confusion about the meaning of marriage is already widespread. It’s the underlying issue in the crisis of marriage that last fall’s Synod of Bishops on marriage should have confronted and didn’t. But the synod’s omission is no reason for the Church to persist in a relationship with government that deepens the confusion.

A two-step procedure—come by the courthouse for a civil ceremony that satisfies the state, then come to church for a sacramental marriage—may sound cumbersome, but it’s an opportunity for catechesis on what marriage means. As secular America heads down the same-sex path, the Church now must go another, better way.

Let the state certify, and the churches sanctify…

Russell Shaw is a freelance writer based in CathPT_RussellShaw_100Washington, D.C., and the author of twenty books, including American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America is available on Kindle. You can email him at

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23 responses to “Same Sex Marriage Inevitable; Churches Must Seek Legal Protections”

  1. I thought I was a Catholic, but maybe I should give you a call to confirm first? You probably know me better than myself.

    I’m Catholic and support gay marriage, but Sue Korlan says I’m not. Boo Hoo.

  2. But you are completely missing his point. The point is that different Catholics will define sin differently. Some Catholics will not bake cakes; some will. Some will not sell a house to a gay couple, because they are facilitating further sexual and immoral activity; other Catholics will. Some Catholics will not rent houses (cases in Utah, Michigan) to same-sex couples; other Catholic landlords will.

    So, the point is that we can’t leave it to confused Catholics to arbitrarily decide, on an individual basis, if they will serve same-sex couples. Even if there were a rule, that rule would be civilly-based – even Catholics who believe that renting rooms to same-sex couples constitues sin will have to rent rooms.

    What is frustrating about this conversation is it’s not clear if people are deliberately being obtuse, or just genuinely unintelligent. Any basic primer on constitutional law or civil procedure would do. Also, I recommend reading the actual RFRA text. Michigan’s is fairly moderate and potentially representative.

  3. Not sure how this is relevant. I just know there are many perverse Catholic priests, and saying that rates of abuse are lower in the Church than any other institutions is just retarded.

    Teachers unions or swim coaches don’t claim a moral highground. Nor do elementary schools as a group. The Catholic Church does, so even if it has a lower rate of abuse, the appropriate response for Catholics like Sue Korlan is not “Don’t single us out!” but “Yuck”

    Any response short of a “Yuck” is insufficient. But does anyone really think the Catholic Church has moral authority? Or that Sue Korlan represents the type of Catholic that will bring the Church into the 21st century and beyond? Come on…

  4. There are many definitions of crusades, some of which were not actually initiated by a Pope, even if papal bulls came after.

    I don’t mean to be mean, but you really need to read up. The definition of a crusade was often very ambiguous. Especially when the scope of action went beyond the initial promulgation. Scholars don’t even agree sometimes about when a crusade began or ended, or when the next one segued in.

    Will you have an opportunity to attend some introductory-level medieval history classes? They are quite fun, actually.

  5. Well, transubstantiation doesn’t say anything. Nor does the Bible say anything. Poppycock medieval scholastics did have something to say about the matter though.

    I mean, let’s get this straight, Sue. You believe in the resurrection of dead and decaying matter on faith. In the transmutation of matter. In the turning of water into wine. Spontaneous healing. But not in the ability of actual gay men and women who you know to be good people to become good parents?

    If you were 30 years younger, I really think your life experiences would cause you to think differently. Older, single woman, intensely devout, no gay friends. Comfortable passing judgment.

  6. The article is agnostic, which is I suppose the best a Catholic can do. I encourage you to do more reading in the field.

  7. Christianity isn’t going to survive because of a belief in miracles. Christianity became a global religion because of the power of a set of ideas.

    Those set of ideas, or some would argue, the language in which the ideas were framed, were deeply persuasive for a very long time, even after the Enlightenment.

    Christianity has been in a decline in the secular West for a very long time. There are some powerful arguments and spokespeople for it. We’re just not seeing them on blogs like these, where to be honest, people seem inherently skeptical to anything related to gays.

    If the article is agnostic, some will say – I don’t see a problem, I think it will work out fine. Others will say – let’s be careful. I think that choice says something about a person too.

    The effects of interracial marriage could not have been studied until 20 years after we had long histories of interracial marriages.

  8. I am glad we have professional sociologists and not doddering librarians to tell us what the most current research of the science says. Don’t you agree?

  9. That’s just stupid. The Pope says that about 2% of priests currently are pedophiles, so the idea that these are all old cases doesn’t make sense.

    Google is your friend. Type “recent Catholic sex abuse cases” or any iteration, and read to your heart’s delight.

  10. Yeah, so the point is you do agree that Catholic doctors cannot refuse to treat the six-day old daughter of lesbian parents (case in Michigan)? If so, I agree.

    If, however, you think that they should treat the baby, but should not be “forced” to do so (i.e. individual Catholics can substitute their judgment for the state’s in deciding what constitutes an unacceptable intrusion into their religious liberty in serving gays or gay-related people), we don’t agree.

  11. This is why you should read the news. The baker in question was the one who asked whose wedding this was for. Two men and their mother had walked in. They hadn’t even gotten very far, but the baker just needed to know if this was for a gay wedding, throwing everyone by surprise.

    So, Sue Korlan, it wasn’t hissy queens who were proclaiming their gayness, as I reckon that would make you uncomfortable. It was the baker who asked.

  12. Well, Peter, it wasn’t essential for a black person to get served cake too, you know. According to your framework, if a black person can get served elsewhere, and since cake isn’t essential to life, any one will a sincere religious objection to serving blacks gets a free pass.

    I’m not sure if you even actually believe this argument. Think about it a little.

  13. Look, if I didn’t know any Catholics very well before this convo, I must confess that talking to you would give me the (incorrect) view that Catholicism attracts members who are generally dim-witted and obtuse. But that doesn’t mean that my professional ability to bake a cake or serve you in any way has anything to do with my knowing more Catholics, or liking you, or thinking if you are moral.

    I happen to think that a good case can be made for the immorality of political positions that systematically disenfranchise or denigrate minorities. But even if I find you an immoral person (certainly I do believe many religious minded folk are more immoral than some of my gay friends), I must still serve you.

    Britney Spears gets remarried and I find the wedding superficial and disgusting. I serve her. A man marries a 80 year old woman to claim residual spousal benefits (it’s more common than you think and does not constitute Social Security fraud). I think the marriage is a sham but bake the cake anyway. Why the freakin’ hell is everyone singling out gays?

  14. Yes, but then what is the principle, Sue? So what kind of principle aka. RFRA would serve as a guiding test for which discriminatory actions are permitted. From a legal and policy perspective, how do you distinguish a baker who doesnt want to bake, from a doctor who doesnt want to treat, from a realtor who doesnt want to broker?

    Access is there in all cases. You can walk to another baker, to another doctor, to another real estate agent. It isn’t life or death in all three cases. And reasonable Catholics can surely disagree about which acts constitute participation in sins. So, let’s let Catholics decide on an individual basis if they will serve, broker, treat? Have gay people encounter Catholics on a daily basis and ask upfront – as the lesbian parents had to do – if they take gay people as clients? After this Christian doctor refused treatment, the mothers’ first question to every pediatrician was – are you OK treating my daughter if we are gay? They had not thought to ask this before.

    Have you, as a Catholic, ever had a problem getting served because you were Catholic?

  15. Schools don’t claim a moral highground. The Catholic Church does. We don’t go to our teachers for confessions. We go to our priests for that. The Church and people like you are symbols of moral authority, so why should you be held to the same standard?

    Don’t you think that’s a stupid argument? After all, if my tax accountant makes three mistakes on my tax return, I don’t say, oh wait, but look, Peter Calabrese made 6 mistakes, which was even more. Lousy argument, and even lousier tone.

    This incredibly silly argument that abuse happens outside the Church too is irresponsible, and it stems from an inability from some Catholics to actually, deeply, and genuinely engage the hurt these priests have inflicted. Sexual abuse of children is always wrong. But when it takes place inside the Church, it is especially troubling.

    Why should anyone trust an institution historically capable of such egregious shufflings and cover-ups?

  16. I will tell the civil authorities. Why would I tell an institution that has not, over decades, been capable of solving this problem? And which was just recently criticized by no less than the United Nations for being less than forthcoming about abuse cases?

    Yeah, I think I will pass.

  17. It’s not the duty of gay people to come out to doctors so they can get served. Please get real. A doctor is a professional who just needs to do her freaking job.

  18. Because the improvement needs to be recognized, unless of course you want to be remembered only for the worst thing you ever did. Pastoral situations get responded to pastorally. Distracting rhetoric needs to be responded too lest a false picture be given. You obviously like thinking of the Church as only in the position it was ten and 20 and 50 years ago. You want to eliminate the Church from having a voice because of those sins. If that is convenient for you that is fine. But living life outside of the truth is never a good thing.

  19. The difference of course being that marriage is not about race but about two opposite genders forming a union. Some racists may have made it about race but race was never integral to marriage the way opposite genders is, despite how modern society wants to redefine it.

  20. The subjugation of women was historically an integral part of marriage. Propertied transfers; the structuring of the marital bond so that women could not make legal decisions; levirate marriages that could be considered incestuous, etc.

    Even the move toward monogamy was historically a change. Many traditional societies practiced polygamy. Now, when we moved from that to monogamy, no one was looking to “tradition.”

    I think that people like Peter Calabrese need to put forth a stronger defense of traditional marriage beyond saying “it’s always been this way.” Marriage has changed many times in our history. Why should one group be allowed to define what marriage is? If Muslims believe that polygamous marriage – under the Koran – is not just permissible but preferable, do they get to tell everyone else that marriage is inherently polygamous?

    Conservative Catholics are not the only religious group in America. Many religious groups – the Universalist Unitarians, some branches of the Bible Presbyterians – consider same-sex marriages marriage. Why do they not have First Amendment rights to their beliefs too? What? Only Catholics get First Amendment rights?

  21. I have a suspicion that the worst thing that most people did don’t come close to robbing the innocence of a child the way these priests did. This isn’t distracting rhetoric. It happened and it is factual, and trying to whitewash that history is what is rhetorical.

    You might be ashamed, and rightly so, of that past. But the way to come to terms about it is to admit it, and to speak of it in a non-pugnacious tone given the sordid history of the Church. Perhaps when the generation of victims from that era have all passed on in time, the Catholic Church might no longer be called on to incessantly apologize for its sins. But for now, the wounds are fresh. No amount of apologizing can make up for the hurt done to so many people. Even the Pope understands that and he is a good model for you to follow.

  22. Another joke: How many priests passed HIV to children they sexually abused? Does anyone know the statistics?