Fury: Same-sex couples will now be able to hold civil ceremonies in churches, sparking a backlash from Christian groups




The culture wars are coming soon to a church near you. Dominic Lynch writes:  “Imagine a same sex couple who consider themselves deeply Catholic want to get married at the Catholic church of their choice. They approach the pastor and he declines to officiate the wedding or be a party to it. The spurned couple might then file a non-discrimination lawsuit against the pastor and his parish making the simple argument that because same-sex marriage is a right protected under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, a parish cannot discriminate in who it weds and who it doesn’t.

“The religious liberty protections of the First Amendment can only hold up so long when put under the scrutiny that drove Burwell. Play some mental gymnastics a la Roberts and suddenly a centuries-old protection of religious liberty fades away. “Prohibiting” could be construed to mean “Congress can’t prohibit except when…” And “free exercise” could take a similar meaning: “Churches can practice their faith freely except when…” It’s not a far stretch to suggest this can happen. If Burwell happened, this can happen. Advocates of same sex marriage have avoided discussing religious liberty protections outside of some editorials that scoff at the idea that the free exercise of religion would ever be threatened by the gay marriage movement. Ultimately, our society is one step away from the previously unthinkable stage of government-coerced marriages in churches.”

The shape this assault takes is going to be interesting for a number of reasons. While it’s true that young people in particular favor same sex marriage, and have less attachment to organized religion and local churches than they do to, say, Netflix, they do still have a more favorable place for religion than they do other aspects of life – and they have held to the rates of practice of prior generations.  “Pew Research Center surveys show, for instance, that young adults’ beliefs about life after death and the existence of heaven, hell and miracles closely resemble the beliefs of older people today. Though young adults pray less often than their elders do today, the number of young adults who say they pray every day rivals the portion of young people who said the same in prior decades. And though belief in God is lower among young adults than among older adults, Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty at rates similar to those seen among Gen Xers a decade ago. This suggests that some of the religious differences between younger and older Americans today are not entirely generational but result in part from people’s tendency to place greater emphasis on religion as they age.”

What remains to be seen is how Americans evaluate efforts to compel churches to host gay marriages, and whether they see the church or the couple as the bully in that situation. My suspicion is that while removing tax exemptions may have legs as an issue going forward, actual access to houses of worship will provoke more resistance among people, even people who do not consider themselves particularly religious. There is a rudeness and a bullying aspect to it that is not particularly appealing, and Americans tend not to like bullies.

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I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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