Marriage & Same-Sex Attraction (9)

(Frequently Asked Questions Part 9 of 11: Questions 50 to 56)

Religious Liberty & the Movement to Redefine Marriage


50. What is religious liberty?

51. How could changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?

52. But would ministers really be forced to officiate at the “wedding” of a same-sex couple?

53. What’s the real threat to religious liberty posed by same-sex “marriage”?

54. Have any of these threats to religious liberty come to pass?

55. Australia is different. Surely there is no likelihood that such threats to religious liberty could occur in Australia?

56. Doesn’t a religious exemption protect institutions and individuals if they believe that marriage can only be between a man and a woman?

 


 

50. WHAT IS RELIGIOUS LIBERTY?

 

Religious liberty is the right to live in the truth of one’s faith and in conformity with one’s transcendent dignity as a person.

Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes … freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Article 19 goes on to express that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference.”

Catholic teaching also states: “Nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits” (CCC §2106).

Religious liberty is so important that John Paul II called it the “source and synthesis” of rights considered basic to every human person.

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51. HOW COULD CHANGING THE LEGAL DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE HAVE ANY EFFECT ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY?

 

Changing the legal term “marriage” is not one change in the law, but rather amounts to thousands of changes at once. The term “marriage” can be found in family law, employment law, trusts and estates, healthcare law, tax law, property law, and many others. These laws affect and pervasively regulate religious institutions, such as churches, religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals, and families. When Church and State agree on what the legal term “marriage” means (the union of one man and one woman), there is harmony between the law and religious institutions. When Church and State disagree on what the term “marriage” means (e.g., if the State redefines marriage in order to recognize so-called same-sex marriage), conflict results on a massive scale between the law and religious institutions and families, as the State will apply various sanctions against the Church for its refusal to comply with the State’s definition. Religious liberty is then threatened, not only for the religious institutions, but also for individual citizens who wish to live and operate their businesses according to their religious beliefs.

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52. BUT WOULD MINISTERS REALLY BE FORCED TO OFFICIATE AT THE “WEDDING” OF A SAME-SEX COUPLE?

 

This question is a red herring. In other words, it is a false caricature of the real concerns about religious liberty, and is actually used to distract from the real concerns. It is unlikely in the extreme that the State will force ministers and churches to officiate same-sex “marriage” ceremonies, although it is easily foreseeable that many church ministers and communities could be sued in court over this question. There are, however, other more probable and pervasive concerns.

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53. WHAT’S THE REAL THREAT TO RELIGIOUS LIBERTY POSED BY SAME-SEX “MARRIAGE”?

 

The legal redefinition of marriage can threaten the religious liberty of religious institutions and individuals in potentially numerous ways, involving various forms of government sanction, ranging from court orders compelling action against conscience, to awards of money damages and other financial penalties, to marginalization in public life:

  • Compelled Association: the government forces religious institutions to retain as leaders, employees, or members those who obtain legalized same-sex “marriage”; or obligates wedding-related businesses (cake decorators, photographers etc.) to provide services for same-sex couples.
  • Compelled Provision of Services: the government forces religious institutions to extend any services they afford to genuine marriage (e.g., use of church halls or buildings) to same-sex “marriage” as well.
  • Punishment for Speech: preaching, teaching, political action, or conversation reflecting moral opposition to same-sex “marriage” represents actionable “harassment” or “discrimination,” or forbidden “hate speech”.
  • Exclusion from Accreditation and Licensure: those who adhere to the definition of marriage are excluded from participation in highly regulated professions and quasi-governmental functions, as licenses are revoked and religious institutions lose accredited status.
  • Exclusion from Government Funding, Religious Accommodations, and Other Benefits: those who adhere to the definition of marriage are excluded from receiving government grants and contracts, available to other not-for-profit organisations, to provide secular social services, and from various tax exemptions.

 

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54. HAVE ANY OF THESE THREATS TO RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COME TO PASS?

 

There are numerous such examples from Europe and the United States, which are a warning for Australia. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The Parliament of Denmark voted to force churches in the established Evangelical Lutheran Church to perform same-sex “marriage” ceremonies inside their sanctuaries; (SBS World News 8/6/2012)
  • The city of Hutchinson, Kansas USA, adopted a “non-discrimination statute” requiring houses of worship that rent their facilities to the public to allow same-sex “marriages” on the premises; (Requiring Churches to Rent Facilities)
  • A New Jersey USA judge ruled against a United Methodist Church retreat house that refused to allow a same-sex civil union ceremony to be conducted on its premises (LifeSiteNews, 13/1/2012);
  • Court in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan ruled that a marriage commissioner had no right to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage on grounds of conscience, and fined him for “violating” the human rights of the couple. (CBC News, 23/7/2009)
  • The USA New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld a New Mexico Human Rights Commission verdict which found a photographer guilty of unlawful discrimination and fined her $6000 because she declined to photograph a “commitment ceremony” for two women.(Photographer Fined)
  • In Massachusetts, USA, parents are unable to remove their children from sex education classes that teach views on sexuality that differ from their own. (Same-Sex Marriage Impact inMassachusetts)
  • Boston teachers were sent a memo from the Superintendent of Schools threatening them with disciplinary action if they did not present same-sex marriage to their classes in a positive light. (Same-Sex Marriage Impact in Massachusetts)
  • On March 10, 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston, one of the nation’s oldest adoption agencies, announced that it would no longer function as an adoption agency because Massachusetts Department of Social Services required them to place children into same-sex households. (Boston Catholic Charities)

These threats have been manifest in other countries as well, often to an even more persistent and invasive extent.

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55. AUSTRALIA IS DIFFERENT. SURELY THERE IS NO LIKELIHOOD THAT SUCH THREATS TO RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COULD OCCUR IN AUSTRALIA?

 

In their submissions to the 2012 Senate Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs concerning the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012, a number of pro same-sex “marriage” groups argued for such restrictions on religious liberty.

A submission from the Discrimination Law Experts’ Group said: “We believe that the religious exceptions should be removed because we do not accept that religious rights should prevail over the rights of individuals to be treated in a non-discriminatory way in public sphere activities.”

In like vein, the Equality Rights Alliance recommended that exceptions “… for religious organisations which would enable them to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity should not be included in the consolidated [anti-discrimination] Act.”

The Human Rights Law Centre was particularly harsh on religious exemptions. It acknowledged: “with disappointment… the Government’s pre-determined position on the maintenance of permanent exemptions for religious bodies” and said such exemptions are “manifestly inappropriate and inconsistent with Australia’s human rights obligations and international best-practice”.

In the light of events overseas, such militant views do not auger well for religious liberty in Australia.

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56. DOESN’T A RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION PROTECT INSTITUTIONS AND INDIVIDUALS IF THEY BELIEVE THAT MARRIAGE CAN ONLY BE BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN?

 

A religious exemption may provide protections, but so far those protections have been drawn very narrowly and fail to cover known risks. More broadly, because “marriage” so pervades the law, it is difficult to foresee all circumstances where religious freedom conflicts may arise. Moreover, once a law is passed, these exemptions can be easily challenged, as witnessed by the experience in Europe, Canada and the United States. But even further, no religious exemption—no matter how broadly worded—can justify a supportive or neutral position on the redefinition of marriage (see CDF, 1992, 16). Such redefinition is always fundamentally unjust, and indeed, religious exemptions may even facilitate the passage of such unjust laws. Protecting marriage protects religious liberty; the two are inseparable.

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List of Abbreviations

CA – Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Centesimus Annus (1991)

CCC – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (2000)

CDF 1986 – Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual persons (1986)

CDF 1992 – Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons (1992)

CV – Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate (2009)

CSDC – Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004)

DH – Second Vatican Council, Declaration Dignitatis Humanae (1965)

FC – Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (1982)

GS – Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965)

LF – Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families (1994)

LL – USCCB, Pastoral Letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009)

PP – Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967)

RN – Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891)

TOB – Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006). Other English versions are available online at EWTN’s website and at the Vatican website.

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Key References

The official (Magisterial) teaching of the Catholic Church on Homosexuality and Marriage is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993) , and in three documents of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Sacrament of Matrimony
Download from link: CCC – The Sacrament of Matrimony

Catechism of the Catholic Church:  The Sixth Commandment (Especially Paragraphs 2357-2359)
Download from link: CCC – The Sixth Commandment

Declaration on Certain Questions of Sexual Ethics: (CDF, 1975)
Download from link: Declaration on Sexual Ethics

Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person (CDF, 1986):
Download from link: Pastoral Care of Homosexual persons

Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (CDF, 2003)
Download from link: Legal Recognition of Homosexual Unions

 

In May 2015, the Catholic Bishops of Australia issued a Pastoral Letter “to all Australians” on the ‘Same-sex Marriage’ Debate, entitled “Don’t mess with Marriage”. This summarises why the Catholic Church opposes moves to broaden the legal definition of marriage to include ‘same-sex’ relationships.

A Pastoral Letter from the Catholic Bishops of Australia to all Australians on the ‘Same-sex Marriage’ Debate
Download from link: ‘Same-sex’ Marriage Pastoral Letter

 

The following submissions by the Catholic Church in Australia to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 also elaborate on Catholic Church teaching on marriage and same-sex attraction.

Submission 113: His Eminence Cardinal George Pell AC, Archbishop of Sydney
Download from link: (PDF 4791KB)

Submission 5: Opening Statement tabled by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference at public hearing on Thursday 3 May 2012
Download from link: (PDF 1073KB)

Submission 234: Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
>Download from link: (PDF 113KB)

 

Catholic Teaching on Marriage is summarised in the following “Frequently Asked Questions” Booklet.

Marriage in the Catholic Church: Frequently Asked Questions Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life, 2006.
Download from link: Marriage in the Catholic Church
Other Non Catholic Church References

Regnerus, Mark: How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study. Social Science Research 41 (2012) 752–770.

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