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Does the Right to Same-Sex Marriage Trump the Right to Religious Liberty?


Zack Pruitt - published on 07/09/15 - updated on 06/08/17

The same trends are already occurring on the local level.  In 2014, the city of Houston issued subpoenas to various church leaders to turn over all speeches, sermons, and communications with congregants regarding homosexuality and gender identity.  This caused a huge public uproar and the subpoenas were rescinded.  The city acted against those leaders who opposed a non-discrimination ordinance proposal that would, in part, allow men to use women’s restrooms and vice versa. 

Houston provides a great example of what can happen in cities and states, especially since local governments will now be emboldened by the finding that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.  State legislatures and city councils will begin passing laws that will constrict the free exercise liberties of religious people and organizations.  Any religious speech or action that contradicts a current policy or ordinance regarding same-sex marriage could be subject to heavy-handed government intervention.

Consider the following recent cases:  An Oregon bakery has been fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple; New York has fined the owners of a farm $13,000 for refusing to host a same-sex wedding on their farm; and the state of Washington fined a florist $1,000 for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.  All of these fines were based on non-discrimination ordinances that were passed prior to the Supreme Court finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.  Now, with the full weight of the Constitution on their side, state and local officials will strengthen these ordinances and give them more teeth with regard to enforcement.

Proponents of traditional marriage are fighting back to ensure that the free exercise of religion is not impeded by the Court’s ruling.  The First Amendment Defense Act, proposed by Senator Mike Lee of Utah, would strengthen religious liberty protections in federal law by offering specific protections for individuals and organizations that support traditional marriage.  However, even if the bill passed Congress it would have to survive a possible veto by President Barack Obama, and beyond that it would also have to pass scrutiny by the courts with regard to the Obergefell decision.

This begins a new era for religion in America.  Many religious institutions that have self-governed since the inception of the country will now be forced to adopt a government-imposed definition of marriage in contradiction to their doctrinal beliefs.  Those that do not conform will pay a price, which could include loss of tax-exempt status, fines, or even forced closure.  One of the founding principles of America is the free exercise of religion, but that once fundamental right now comes with a caveat:  The freedom to exercise religion as long as your religion includes the government’s new definition of marriage.   

Zack Pruitt holds a J.D. from Saint Louis University School of Law and is the Founder and General Editor of This article was published at Acton Commentary and is reprinted here with permisson.

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HomosexualityPoliticsReligious Freedom
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