The Supreme Court’s decision not to take up cases dealing with same-sex marriage bans has effectively legalized same-sex marriage in 24 states. There seems to be little doubt that the United States is on the road to allowing same-sex marriage in every state. Progressives may view this change as progress toward an American that no longer discriminates against its LGBT citizens while traditionalists may see this as the government meddling in the natural arrangement of a family. Unsurprisingly, same-sex marriage is not the only arena that these two factions are in disagreement upon. But this conflict in particular is quickly leading the United States toward a culture war that pits the First Amendment against the Fourteenth.
As more states remove the bans, questions are beginning to arise over religious clerics refusing to perform same-sex marriages. Does such a refusal constitute prejudiced discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or protected adherence to religious doctrine? A lawsuit addressing this question has already been raised in court and it is only a matter of time before more of these cases begin appearing.
Another area of hostility between the forces of anti-discrimination and religious liberty is contraception. Thanks to the contraception mandate imposed by the Obama Administration as part of the Affordable Care Act, the judiciary has had to answer questions on whether employers who have moral objections to abortion can be compelled to offer contraceptives that prevent a pregnancy after an egg has been fertilized in employee health insurance (see my article on the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case here). The Supreme Court eventually decided that closely held corporations do have the constitutional protections to not provide such contraceptives because of religious objections (as I correctly predicted). This battle is not even close to a resolution and it will likely have a major role in future elections.
This fight’s development is forcing the country into an identity crisis. Do we really want to make it illegal for a minister to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage even though his religion explicitly condemns it? It truly seems to be moving that way.
A significant number Americans have chosen not to associate with any religion, so it makes sense that they have also begun to lose respect for religious beliefs that they do not agree with. At the same time, an increasing number of Americans are becoming more socially liberal, explaining the increasing focus on fairness and tolerance in social politics. One would hope that tolerance towards those choosing to respect the traditional definition of marriage would be taken as equally valid, but that has proven unlikely. These trends help to explain why progressives have gained so much ground in the past few decades. Whether conservatives and traditionalists have it in them to continue to take up the cause of religious liberty and the family is an open question at this point.
As the fight continues, a balance must be found between respect and dignity for religious liberty and the societal values of equality and tolerance. Even though the Supreme Court has declined intervene this time, it will most certainly have to in the near future. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has the power to prevent an conclusive social decision on an issue and perpetuate the question for years after, as it did in Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court needs to protect the rights of every American, and that includes the right to religious liberty and the right to freedom from discrimination. For now, the best we can hope for is a prudent decision that promotes a civil societal resolution to this issue.
— Connor Kitchings is Associate Editor of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE
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