The End of Religious Freedom

The idea that gay marriage will endanger religious freedom is an old and common argument. So old and common, in fact, that it’s frequently dismissed on its face. After all, no one is forcing any religion to alter its practices. This is just about not imposing religious practices on secular society.

Of course, nearly every time I suggest to someone who fervently supports gay marriage that perhaps this argument would be best addressed by removing all state recognition of marriage from our society, I’m met with scorn, derision, and hatred. I was even, on one spectacular occasion, faced with a crowd of people who insisted that this proved I wanted to impose my religious beliefs on them. I’m not sure how the suggestion that state not dictate to religion meant religion dictating to state, but there you go.

The fact of the matter is that the inevitable result of this situation is that the state must dictate to religion. 

“Oh!” you might say. “But marriage is older than your religion! You don’t have claim on it!”

If we’re going to get into a teleological argument about chickens and eggs, then I’d just point out (and I have, on many an occasion) the futility of arguing which person’s religion came first. After all, if I believe the Bible, then I’d have to say that there’s only one answer to that. My Asatru friends have a different answer for that. What’s the point? We’d just get bogged down in trying to prove God’s existence, as if that’s some sort of trump card.

Not Impressed Thomas Aquinas

“Oh!” you might continue. “But your religion doesn’t have sole claim on marriage! You can’t use your rules to determine who gets married!”

I’ve seen this one so many times I just have to laugh, because it shows how little some people think about their arguments. Okay, let’s agree that the Church condemns any marriage performed in such a way that it violates the Code of Canon Law. This includes divorce; you might remember a certain fracas about this subject with a certain king of England. Said fracas eventually resulted in a multitude of different flavors of Christianity populating the former English colonies that now make up the United States, where divorce became so common that G. K. Chesterton once observed that he had no clue why all Americans weren’t divorced.

So if you want to make an argument that the Catholic Church is trying to impose its rules on marriage via force of law, well . . . I have a whole country I’d like to enter into the record as Exhibit A.

Just because we condemn something doesn’t mean we want to force people to obey us. I know some people have that idea of Catholics in particular and Christians in general, but we kind of have this doctrine about “free will” and the exercise thereof; in fact, the only two things we’ve ever objected to have been someone claiming heresy to be doctrine, or someone forcing conversions. If you want to start your own church, that’s fine; just don’t prevent us from practicing our religion and teaching it to others.

And that is precisely where gay marriage becomes a danger to religious freedom; because this has not, and has never been, about a secular observance. We know this because they’ve told us. And they can’t have what they want if religions are able to refuse to perform gay marriages.

All this time, they’ve been demanding a redefinition of marriage. They don’t want civil unions. They want the word. They want marriage. The word has a prestige that they feel obligated to access; and if it’s not open to them, then they’re denied a civil right.

This argument used to be about benefits, but that didn’t gain much traction. After all, every legal benefit of marriage can be duplicated by a simple contract between two persons. (This is, in point of fact, the argument I use to show that there’s no need for government to recognize any marriage. I’m a small-government kind of guy, even if the tiny sliver of unnecessary government under discussion happens to mirror something I believe.) So the argument was switched to something that gets a lot more traction in the United States; because the people of this country tend to get up in arms if they learn someone, somewhere, is being mean.

“Okay,” you might say. “But you’re overreacting. We’re talking about civil rights here. You’re allowed to practice your religion the way you want, as long as it doesn’t harm me.”

If a Catholic marriage has a different definition from what these activists demand, then that creates two different kinds of marriage — and since they’ve proven that they’re not willing to go to another bakery, why wouldn’t they sue a church over the actual ceremony rather than something that has nothing to do with said ceremony?

I’m using Catholics as an example because:

  1. I’m Catholic.
  2. This is a Catholic blog.
  3. The Catholic Church is the most visible form of religion in the country (it’s very rare for Hollywood to use another one, for example).
  4. And the Church is far more likely to excommunicate gun owners than perform gay marriages, and we all know how that’s been blown out of proportion.

I think the Catholic Church will be the target, though, because not only is it visible but it’s also still seen as “other.” There’s still a longstanding suspicion of Catholics in the US. Targeting Catholics is pretty easy.

Catholics aren’t the largest denomination in the country, but they’re the largest unified one, and work in consort better than any larger or smaller denomination, until you get down to LDS. They’ve been the favorite target of leftist infiltration because of that, and the leftists have been wondering why the Church isn’t falling in line in the last few decades like they have been in the previous century. That’s why they’re so rabid over Francis, I think. Anything he says that sounds like their message feels like a victory for them, because they see life through the prism of politics. They don’t get that the Church doesn’t give a fig about political fig leaves.

Facepalm Pope

So I think they’ll target the Catholic Church, rather than Baptists or Methodists or Mormons. They won’t mention Judaism or Islam either. Every other denomination in this country is either too diffuse, has already caved, or isn’t visible enough. And, of course, so many people are already willing to drag the Catholic name through the mud, usually by making up stories about what we really believe (and refusing to accept that we put everything we believe online, indexed by your favorite search engine and easy to fact-check) or by invoking grand conspiracies about Opus Dei or the idea that the Vatican is secretly harboring a vast gold reserve. The Church is an easy target, highly visible, very organized (well, that part’s debatable), and perceived as a busybody telling everyone how bad they are.

Cool Story

And I think it will backfire on them. Either public sentiment will be against them, or the Church will just move their marriages underground like they were under the British, when being a Catholic priest was a death sentence.

After all, they don’t care about the theology. They want the recognition. They want the word. They want people to accept them. And the only way to do that is to get the state to tell churches what to do with the sacrament of marriage.

They must end the separation of church and state.

And the biggest irony here is that, as I said, I’m for the opposite. I don’t think states should be in the business of marriage at all. I don’t think that there’s anything a state has to do with a marriage that a simple contract couldn’t manage. This is probably my most libertarian position, and the one point on which I agree with these rainbow-draped activists. I don’t think the state has any business legislating who gets married.

The primary duty of any state isn’t military or diplomacy. It’s the regulation and enforcement of contracts, to protect the rights of citizens when they interact with other people. Diplomacy and the military are there to support that, because a nation isn’t much of a nation if it’s absorbed or conquered; but they are still secondary duties.

And yet, when I express this opinion to gay marriage activists, I’m told I’m trying to impose my views on them.

Does this seem far-fetched? I hope so. I hope so because it means that you, dear reader, have a high opinion of our society. I hope so because it means that when — not if — this happens, you might side with us. Because the ACLU has already stated last week that it can no longer stand idly by while actions can be allowed to be influenced by religious conviction.

Remember, it’s now an accepted fact among gay activists that a bakery that refuses to bake a cake for a gay wedding is discriminating. Taking business to a more agreeable bakery isn’t an option. And that is for a cake. Last I checked, cakes aren’t part of a wedding ceremony. They’re for the reception.

If activists are willing to get up in arms over a confectionery confrontation that has nothing to do with an actual marriage, how much more outraged will they be over a Catholic priest refusing to perform a gay wedding?

About Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman is a traditionally-minded Catholic convert and freelance science fiction and fantasy editor, which means that he's in high demand in a small population. Fortunately, he loves talking about stories. And Catholicism. And history. And philosophy. And lots of other stuff.
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8 Responses to The End of Religious Freedom

  1. Foxfier says:

    I don’t think that there’s anything a state has to do with a marriage that a simple contract couldn’t manage.

    Sad thing is, this is what we had with state-recorded marriage– a standardized, simple contract limited to the group that would require government involvement. (Those that produce children, whose rights have to be protected– and who place demands on the two adults involved which mean their rights likewise need defense.)

    Not only could people get married to anybody they wanted to, they didn’t have to tell the government about it. The marriage license was a matter of a simplified contract; a means of enabling the state to recognize and adjust for the Natural Law style marriage and couple-formation which produces the basic unit of society, the family.


    Well, we’re charging head-first into making everyone use the well-known delights of divorce court agreements. (Oops, I think I left a puddle of sarcasm there….)

    By removing the simple marriage definition, the state gained the power to decide all cases.

    I’m not very good at organizing things, but this article seems to do a good job of it:


    At least some of the people who accuse you of wanting to “impose your morality” on them mean it in the form of them having to recognize that people are allowed to disagree with them. The “imposition” is that you make them uncomfortable, because you do not agree with them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think you are right the Church will be the primary target but only because there is only one Church, and one religion that has the unique advantage of being true. Please be advised, “Catholic Geek,” that the Catholic Church is *not* a mere “denomination.” Such designation is reserved for those sects that have departed from the Church. Everything else is just everything else. And so the evil one must attempt to humiliate Holy Mother Church before attempting to destroy Her. One will soon see the foolishness of attempting to rely on governments that reject the superiority of the Church.


    • You seem to be arguing with someone else. Obviously, I do not reject the Church as the one true Church. Perhaps you should moderate your confrontational tone with those who are clearly on the side of the Church?

      Liked by 2 people

  3. fontofworlds says:

    Reblogged this on Margot St. Aubin and commented:
    Hear, hear…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. CMJwyrd says:

    There are conservative/fundamentalist churches who are changing their constitutions to state that their church building may never be used for weddings/receptions except by a member or related person and that the pastor cannot be forced to perform any ceremony that violates the church’s doctrinal policy.


  5. bkc1066 says:

    Well said.


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