The House of Representatives will vote on same-sex marriage legislation on Thursday, May 9. If marriage is redefined in Minnesota, it will be in no small part because proponents were able to convince legislators and the people of Minnesota into concluding that the legislation adequately respects and protects the religious liberty of those who firmly believe marriage is between a man and a woman.
It does not. Scholars on both sides of the marriage debate have written to legislators informing them of the significant deficiencies in the bill.
Protecting people in the pew
The legislation to redefine marriage, H.F. 1054/S.F. 925, does not require clergy to solemnize same-sex marriages. The legislation also allows some churches and religiously affiliated organizations to carry out their ministries and allow use of their facilities without recognizing or affirming same-sex relationships as marriages.
These small concessions by proponents were expected because the First Amendment and the Minnesota Constitution would prohibit such an imposition on clergy and churches anyway.
Yet these accommodations for religious institutions are woefully deficient. Legislators learned last week, after receiving an analysis of the legislation from five law professors who are on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate, that religious organizations could still be punished by municipalities, or be denied public grants or funds for their beliefs.
Even more troubling is the bill authors’ explicit refusal to provide any religious liberty or conscience protections to organizations, groups or individuals who are not clergy or churches. They have refused to do so because they have falsely claimed that Minnesota law already prohibits such “discrimination.”
How could it be the case that it is illegal to act consistently with Minnesota law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman? It is not, and there are no instances where people have been punished in Minnesota for asserting such a belief and acting accordingly.
If the law is changed, the state’s anti-discrimination law, known as the Human Rights Act, will be extended and newly applied to what the state’s policy now considers to be “discrimination.” This is why accommodations are needed.
Defending religious liberty means more than protecting clergy and churches. It’s also about the people in the pew — you — having the right to step outside the four walls of our Church to live out our faith in everyday life.
Religious liberty impact
To offer Minnesotans a cautionary tale about the potential conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty, Minnesota for Marriage, the broad coalition defending the traditional definition of marriage in Minnesota, invited some New Yorkers who have suffered personally and professionally for holding fast to their values since marriage was redefined in their state.
Their message to Minnesotans was simple: In New York, legislators and the public were told that the bill had strong protections for religious liberty. The reality, however, was far different, and Minnesotans should not take similar bait.
Among the group were two farmers, Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who told the story of how after marriage was redefined in New York, their Liberty Ridge Farm, which they also make available for weddings and agri-tourism to add income, was targeted by lesbian activists because of their refusal to allow same-sex wedding ceremonies and receptions to be held on the property.
A complaint was filed against the Giffords in New York State’s Human Rights Commission, and is currently pending. The Giffords face significant fines and penalties should they be found in violation of the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
The Giffords spoke of how, for small business owners, there was no separation between their values at home and in their business. They have been married themselves for 29 years and have put their heart and soul into running Liberty Ridge Farm, the farm itself being an expression of their values.
What lesson would it teach their children, they asked, were they to buckle under the pressure to host such ceremonies, simply to avoid conflict and take the money?
The very same types of scenarios will likely occur in Minnesota if the bill is passed.
No ‘grand bargain’
Despite what some well-meaning folks may claim, there is no “grand bargain” or compromise between same-sex marriage and religious liberty.
If proponents of same-sex marriage were serious about crafting legislation that tried to respect a genuine pluralism on a matter of which there is strong disagreement, they would craft generous religious liberty accommodations. In no jurisdiction where marriage redefinition has passed have they done so. Instead, they have offered the barest of fig leaves necessary to pass the bill, as they have done in Minnesota.
When conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty have emerged, such as those described above, or when organizations such as Catholic Charities must choose to stop providing services so as to not violate their deeply held beliefs, there has been no attempt by same-sex marriage proponents in the various legislative chambers to fix the problem by crafting more expansive accommodations.
The reason for such a refusal is simple. As the Colorado Catholic bishops said so well: “The truth is the movement for recognition of ‘same-sex marriage’ and ‘civil unions’ is less about benefits and rights and more about societal acceptance and approval of homosexual relationships.”
Proponents of same-sex marriage really seek to use government power to silence those who refuse to embrace the sexual and gender anarchy embodied in marriage redefinition legislation.
As author and same-sex marriage activist Marsha Gessen frankly declared recently, “Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there — because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change.”
Gessen’s quote is not unique. One could fill a room with academic articles and media stories that confirm her very point.
Time is running out. Please make your voice heard. Contact your legislators today by calling the Capitol Switchboard at (800) 657-3550.
Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.