As wildfires blazed in California last week, anger at the outcome of the state’s referendum on marriage blazed across the country. After a hard-fought campaign over Proposition 8, which defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman, a clear majority of California voters endorsed it, and the gay marriage lobby was enraged.
Now, as same sex marriage campaigners take the issue back to the courts, it is unclear what the outcome of this battle will be. Will their demands trump the democratic process? It has happened before.
What is clearer than ever is that same sex marriage threatens religious liberty. Disagreement over the extent of that threat played a key role in the debate over Proposition 8. As an independent consultant to the campaign, I must say that the post-election behaviour of the opponents of Prop 8 does not reassure religious believers.
The editor of a new book, Same Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, summarizes the general issue this way: “All six contributors (to the book)—religious and secular, left, center and right—agree that same sex marriage is a threat to religious liberty.” The demand for same sex marriage brings in its wake a demand for identical treatment of same sex couples and opposite sex couples. Churches that resist this demand can have their tax exempt status challenged, can be investigated by “human rights commissions,” and can have parts of their operation shut down completely.
The Yes on Prop 8 campaign applied this argument in print and electronic ads. “Churches could lose their tax exempt status,” we said. “People could be sued for their personal beliefs.” The opponents of Prop 8 replied by calling us liars. Their argument was, “No church will lose its tax exempt status for refusing to perform same sex weddings.”
Note the sleight of hand: we made a general statement that churches could lose their tax exempt status, as well as have other legal problems. The opponents of Prop 8 brought up the one issue — refusing to perform weddings — which they knew the court had specifically exempted from legal challenge. On this basis, they accused us of misleading the public.
I personally was asked many times whether pastors would be forced to bless same sex unions. I told people the pastors were probably safe for now, but that the trend was not encouraging. The most likely outcome, I consistently said, was that the zone of religious freedom would become steadily more constricted. We cited many cases to support this prediction.
Catholic Charities in Boston shut down its adoption agency, rather than comply with the anti-discrimination requirement for the placement of children. A Knights of Columbus chapter in Canada was sued when it refused to rent out its hall for a same sex wedding reception. A Christian marriage counselor lost her job when she referred a lesbian couple to another therapist, rather than counsel them herself. A Christian photographer was fined by a Human Rights Commission in New Mexico because she refused to take pictures at the commitment ceremony of a lesbian couple.
The No on 8 forces claimed that the cases we brought up had nothing to do with marriage. Gays had used anti-discrimination law in these cases, not marriage law, to sue and otherwise harass churches and religious people. (In fact, marriage was an issue in some of the cases.) In effect the gay lobby argued: “We already have all the legal authority we need to do all sorts of Dreadful Things that You Don’t Like, so vote no on 8.”
Oddly enough, people of faith were not reassured by this message.
But refusal to take the religious liberty argument seriously was not the only way the No on 8 forces showed their hostility to religion. On the Sunday before the election, our opponents ran a truly despicable hate-filled ad against the Mormon church. The ad ran the day before the election, when it was almost impossible to respond to it.
Proposition 8 won the election. Over six million people voted for it for a whole variety of reasons. It is safe to say that the religious liberty argument played a significant role. People waved signs that said, “Proposition 8 = Religious Liberty” and “Proposition 8 = Freedom of Speech.” Even though no one could predict the exact form the legal harassment might take, many voters decided the risk to their own churches was unacceptable.
In the aftermath of the election, the No on Prop 8 forces have taken to the streets, attempting to de-legitimize the election. Their behavior toward religious people amply confirms our worst fears.
The gay lobby targeted the Mormon church. Thousands of protesters surrounded Mormon temples in Los Angeles and in Salt Lake City in an obvious attempt at intimidation. Protestors carry signs saying, “Mormon Scum,” a sentiment that would be widely condemned as bigoted if directed at anyone else. Envelopes with suspicious white powder arrived at the Mormon church in Utah and the Knights of Columbus headquarters in Connecticut.
People have called for the LDS church to lose its tax exempt status. An enterprising reporter found that the LDS spent a grand total of less than $3,000 in an in-kind contribution. The other “Mormon millions” were small contributions by thousands of individual members of the church. Gay activists are scouring the election law, looking for minor violations the church or its members might have made.
This attempt to enlist the government for intimidation actually illustrates the point that concerned us throughout the campaign. If you cross the gay lobby, they will use the legal system to go after you. By passing Prop 8, the voters declined to give the gay lobby any additional legal tools.
The authors of Same Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty were not exaggerating. The drive for same sex marriage really does clash with religious liberty. The nation-wide post-election outburst gives Yes on 8 voters all the evidence they need that they did the right thing.
Jennifer Roback Morse, PhD, is the Founder and President of the Ruth Institute. http://www.ruthinstitute.org/