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Romney, Religion, & Gay Marriage

Mitt Romney reacts to Obama’s gay marriage announcement:

“My view is that marriage itself is a relationship between a man and a woman. That’s my own preference. I know other people have differing views. This is a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues. But I have the same view I’ve had since well, since running for office.”

Oh brother. This is the best he can do on this issue? I think there’s no way for Romney to win against Obama in a battle of conviction on same-sex marriage. So he shouldn’t even try to fight Obama on these grounds.

Rather, Romney should go all-out on the religious freedom aspect of the issue. If he talks about it intelligently, directly, and consistently, the media will have to cover it. Here, from a January 16 public statement issued by a group of prominent religious leaders, mostly but not exclusively Christian, is what’s at stake. Let’s get one thing out of the way first:

Some posit that the principal threat to religious freedom posed by same-sex “marriage” is the possibility of government’s forcing religious ministers to preside over such “weddings,” on pain of civil or criminal liability.While we cannot rule out this possibility entirely, we believe that the First Amendment creates a very high bar to such attempts.

These leaders do not believe the government will force churches, synagogues, and mosques to perform same-sex ceremonies. Though they didn’t say it explicitly, it’s also the case that no church, mosque, or synagogue will be forbidden from preaching traditional Abrahamic morality regarding sex and sexuality. It is a straw man to say otherwise. Nobody thinks, or should think, that this is about criminalizing religious speech, as has happened in Canada and some European countries.

This is about something else. This analysis, which I’ve pasted below the jump, is clear and to the point, and explains why religious liberty as we understand it today is in direct danger from same-sex marriage. Romney should talk about this. He should talk about this a lot. EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown law professor and gay rights activist, has written that the clash between gay rights and religious liberty is “an inherent and irreconcilable reality” in American society, and has said that both sides ignore or downplay the fact that this is a zero-sum contest. (She has also said that in any clash between the two, gay rights should prevail.)

As the religious leaders say in their statement, “altering the civil definition of ‘marriage’ does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands, at once. By a single stroke, every law where rights depend on marital status—such as employment discrimination, employment benefits, adoption, education, healthcare, elder care, housing, property, and taxation—will change so that same-sex sexual relationships must be treated as if they were marriage.”

That, as they explain (see below the jump), has serious and far-reaching consequences for tens of millions of Americans and the faith institutions they cherish. This is why the gay marriage issue is about far more than whether or not your same-sex neighbors can legally marry. They write:

In short, the refusal of these religious organizations to treat a same-sex sexual relationship as if it were a marriage marked them and their members as bigots, subjecting them to the full arsenal of government punishments and pressures reserved for racists.

Romney should make Obama talk about this, own it, defend it. He should make the president explain why religious institutions should yield a substantial portion of their religious liberty for the sake of gay rights. Obama will certainly make Romney explain why he’s prepared to inflict harm on same-sex couples to protect religious liberty. Romney, in turn, should make Obama explain why he believes the rights of churches, religious schools, and religious organizations are less important than the right to same-sex marriage. If we’re going to have this argument this year, then let’s have the full argument, not just the argument the president and his supporters want to have. Read on:

Instead, we believe the most urgent peril is this: forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations—throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies—to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct.There is no doubt that the many people and groups whose moral and religious convictions forbid same-sex sexual conduct will resist the compulsion of the law, and church-state conflicts will result.

These conflicts bear serious consequences.They will arise in a broad range of legal contexts, because altering the civil definition of “marriage” does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands, at once.By a single stroke, every law where rights depend on marital status—such as employment discrimination, employment benefits, adoption, education, healthcare, elder care, housing, property, and taxation—will change so that same-sex sexual relationships must be treated as if they were marriage.That requirement, in turn, will apply to religious people and groups in the ordinary course of their many private or public occupations and ministries—including running schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other housing facilities, providing adoption and counseling services, and many others.

So, for example, religious adoption services that place children exclusively with married couples would be required by law to place children with persons of the same sex who are civilly “married.”Religious marriage counselors would be denied their professional accreditation for refusing to provide counseling in support of same-sex “married” relationships.Religious employers who provide special health benefits to married employees would be required by law to extend those benefits to same-sex “spouses.”Religious employers would also face lawsuits for taking any adverse employment action—no matter how modest—against an employee for the public act of obtaining a civil “marriage” with a member of the same sex.This is not idle speculation, as these sorts of situations have already come to pass.

Even where religious people and groups succeed in avoiding civil liability in cases like these, they would face other government sanctions—the targeted withdrawal of government co-operation, grants, or other benefits.

For example, in New Jersey, the state cancelled the tax-exempt status of a Methodist-run boardwalk pavilion used for religious services because the religious organization would not host a same-sex “wedding” there.San Francisco dropped its $3.5 million in social service contracts with the Salvation Army because it refused to recognize same-sex “domestic partnerships” in its employee benefits policies.Similarly, Portland, Maine, required Catholic Charities to extend spousal employee benefits to same-sex “domestic partners” as a condition of receiving city housing and community development funds.

In short, the refusal of these religious organizations to treat a same-sex sexual relationship as if it were a marriage marked them and their members as bigots, subjecting them to the full arsenal of government punishments and pressures reserved for racists. These punishments will only grow more frequent and more severe if civil “marriage” is redefined in additional jurisdictions.For then, government will compel special recognition of relationships that we the undersigned religious leaders and the communities of faith that we represent cannot, in conscience, affirm.Because law and government not only coerce and incentivize but also teach, these sanctions would lend greater moral legitimacy to private efforts to punish those who defend marriage.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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