It has been almost two years since my last blog post. At the time, the US Supreme Court was about to hand down their landmark ruling on DOMA in U.S. v. Windsor; thereby invalidating federal discrimination against homosexuals. Back then I wrote a blog post on how Christians needed to embrace a tolerant view of the legality of homosexuality. However, I also encouraged Christians to stick to their beliefs while simultaneously loving their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. In other words, legislating morality by force is a repeated historical blunder and also you can disagree with someone while still loving them.
Flash forward to today. Laws against homosexuality are back in the news. The US Supreme Court decision on Obergefell v. Hodges will likely be handed down within the next few weeks. Based upon Virginia v. Loving, Romer v. Evans, and the aforesaid U.S. v. Windsor, the SCOTUS will find that state sexual orientation discrimination is also unconstitutional. A ruling based on these decisions will likely create a new protected class of citizens based on sexual orientation (though Justice Roberts floated the idea at oral argument that this may actually be a form of gender discrimination, thereby alleviating the need to create a new protected class…Justice Roberts has been known to split the proverbial baby before…). In either case, it appears that states will likely be estopped from banning gay marriage. In my opinion this is the correct legal decision.
However, this is not why I am writing this article now. The country has yet to answer the difficult decision as to whether private discrimination of homosexual is constitutional. This issue of course was brought to Facebook level fervor with the recent Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The headlines we are constantly sold are that Christians wish to return to the pre-1964 South that refused to sell hamburgers and shakes to blacks; only now flavor of the discrimination month consists of homosexuals. (Is it relevant that the famous 1960 Walgreens sit-in was actually in response to government Jim Crow laws and not restaurant owners who stupidly refused business?) Beyond the fact the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is actually based on a federal law passed by Bill Clinton (and has been on the books in most states for over two decades, including Pennsylvania, with little incident); should it be legal for a Christian to refuse service to a gay couple on the basis of religious objections?
The State of New Mexico made an emphatic “no” when a Christian photographer refused to photograph a gay couple’s wedding. The State fined the Christian photographer and declared that we “are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives…it is the price of citizenship.” The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Christian photographer’s case. More recently, and perhaps famously, there have been multiple bakeries who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding ceremony. Never mind that the plaintiffs in these cases were seeking to make a point rather than truly lacking options. Also never mind the fact that it makes all the sense in the world to force someone who doesn’t want to serve you to be instrumental in the supposed “happiest day of your life”.
Despite all of this, while 6 out of 10 Americans support an individual’s right to gay marriage, 85% also believe that “Christian Photographers have the right to turn down same-sex wedding jobs”. So what are pro-gay rights activists missing that allows for this seemingly counter-duplicitous result? How can individuals both be supportive of gay rights but also for that of the baker who refuses service based on conscientious objections (See Sir Patrick Stewart explains his reasoning)? In the same way that the Christian Photographer or Christian Baker may not interfere with the social contract of marriage between two consenting adults; a gay couple may not seek to force a contract with a non-consenting adult. To put it another way, while it is not the Christian’s business to stop a gay couple from marrying; it is also not the gay couple’s business to force a Christian into their service. Indeed it is the business solely of the Christian proprietor, both literally and figuratively. The same right for a gay couple to live their life in their own designated way should also protect the same for the Christian. Freedom means the ability to live your life in the way that you see fit, as long as you do not infringe on someone else’s same right.
In sum, I’d like to offer this rebuttal to the New Mexico Supreme Court:
Let us never believe that the freedom of religion imposes on any of us some responsibility to run from our convictions – let us instead respect one another’s faith. – President William Jefferson Clinton, November 16, 1993.
Freedom of Religion is the freedom of conscience to live our lives in the way we determine. Without Freedom of Religion we have no “pursuit of happiness” famously seared into the American psyche. Freedom of Religion is the first protected right within the first amendment. Therefore, the freedom of religion is also the first protected right in all of the Bill of Rights. Without the freedom of conscience, the “why” we live; the rights to speech, assembly, and all other rights have no meaning. As the gay rights movement knew just a few years ago, the right to live your life in the manner you choose is of the utmost importance.