Tonight I’m finishing up a rewrite of a story for the next issue of the magazine. In it, I survey law professors and some of the leaders in the fight for traditional marriage to ask them about the next stage of the same-sex marriage controversy. In doing some research earlier today, I ran across a strong piece Ben Domenech wrote in June about religious liberty, same-sex marriage, and our fast-evolving culture. He is very eloquent, and very pessimistic about prospects for traditionalists in the new order. You really should read the whole thing, but in brief, Domenech says that the Sexual Revolution changed the way we think about sex, from being something you do to someone you are. This is why so many people today think that homosexuality is on the same level as race, and why they say that churches that teach the sinfulness of homosexuality are hateful and should not be tolerated. This, he says, is why “religious liberty” is being redefined by liberals like the president as freedom to worship, but only that.
Here’s how Domenech ends the column:
Without religious liberty, there really is no such thing as free speech. When government can pick and choose which form of expression is religiously defensible and which is unjustified hate, it fundamentally alters the relationship between state and citizen. If a different path toward gay marriage had been followed – the compromise of a simple civil union approach to ensure access to rights and benefits – it’s possible this clash could’ve been avoided. A federalist solution to marriage could’ve slowed the approach to the issue to a point where the concerns of the faithful could achieve proper protection. But those for whom sexual identity is paramount have insisted on redefining institutions, through a series of repeated flashpoints – from the Boy Scouts to the Catholic hospitals and adoption centers – disregarding any of the outcomes. The calculation is simple: ensuring the supremacy of their worldview is the goal, and those who disrespect it (for religious reasons or not) deserve to be shunned, regardless of the fallout for civil society. And there will be fallout.
So the real issue here is not about gay marriage at all, but the sexual revolution’s consequences, witnessed in the shift toward prioritization of sexual identity, and the concurrent rise of the nones and the decline of the traditional family. The real reason Obama’s freedom to worship limitation can take hold is that we are now a country where the average person prioritizes sex far more than religion. One of the underestimated aspects of the one out of five Americans (and one out of three Millennials) who are now thoroughly religiously unaffiliated is that, according to Barna’s research, they aren’t actually seekers. They’re not looking or thinking about being part of a community focused on spirituality, in prayer, fellowship, worship, or anything else. Their exposure to faith is diminished because they want it to be.
In a nation where fewer people truly practice religion, fewer people external to those communities will see any practical reason to protect the liberty of those who do. The world could in time come full circle to Mrs. Campbell’s old line: You are free to believe, as long as you don’t do it in the streets, so as not to frighten the horses.
I’ll post more about this issue when my piece is available online. If anybody tells you that there is going to be no serious conflict between SSM and religious freedom, they are either lying to you or lying to themselves. It’s about to get really serious.