Is it time for the “marriage battleground” to shift to religious freedom? That’s the question posed by a recent Christianity Today article in the wake of New York’s approval of same-sex “marriage.” According to University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, the answer is “Yes.” He says, “Religious conservatives who advocate traditional marriage must shift their focus to fighting for religious freedom.”
That’s because Laycock and, sadly, many others mistakenly believe in the inevitability of same-sex “marriage.” They think that the best Christians can do now is make sure gay “marriage” laws at least provide a modicum of protection for the freedoms of those of us who believe in traditional marriage.
Yes, same-sex “marriage,” so-called, poses a grave threat to religious freedom. There have already been cases where photographers and others have been sued for refusing to participate in same-sex “wedding” ceremonies. Catholic Charities in several states has been pushed out of the adoption business because they only place children with a married mom and dad. Make no mistake: protecting religious freedom is a major priority.
But this is exactly why abandoning the battle over traditional marriage is foolish and dangerous. My colleague and Princeton professor Robert George sums it up perfectly: “If you ask,” he said, “’What can be done going forward around the country to protect religious liberty?’ the answer is this: Win the fight to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife. Period.”
Remember: What the state gives, the state can also take away. The religious freedom protection in the New York bill, for example, is poorly drafted and vague. What will it protect? Who will it protect? For how long? We can’t say at this point, and once it gets into the courts — and it will get into the courts — it’s even harder to predict.
Second, shifting the debate to religious freedom takes the spotlight off the importance of marriage. As Tom Messner of the Heritage Foundation told National Review, “The marriage debate is first and foremost a debate about the meaning and public purpose of marriage, not a debate about religious freedom. …[E]ven if same-sex marriage posed no threats to religious freedom at all, the core reasons to support marriage as one man and one woman remain just as compelling and must be addressed.” Exactly.
Third, as Messner points out, same-sex marriage is not inevitable. “Nearly 30 states,” he says, “have protected marriage in their state constitutions. Nearly 40 states have protected marriage in their statutes.” And in Maine, after the legislature passed same-sex “marriage,” the voters struck the law down. And although the media elite don’t want you to know it, according to a recent Alliance Defense Fund poll, the majority of Americans want to reserve marriage to one man and one woman.
To give up the fight for marriage now after a few setbacks is crazy. The debate about marriage in America is not over. Now more than ever, Christians need to be equipped to defend marriage and to live out the truth about marriage, sex, and family in our own lives.
This is no time for defeatism or retreat, but for action.