A Political Scientist Warns of the Gathering Storm: Same-Sex Marriage Will Threaten Religious Liberty

At Public Discourse today, Matthew Franck, a political scientist (full disclosure: also a friend of mine), argues that the advance of same-sex marriage will likely prove incompatible with traditional conceptions of religious liberty.  He begins with an interesting, important, but little noted point: namely, that many “conscience exemptions” given by states in relation to same-sex marriage are presented as compromises of secular progressives with the concerns of religious traditionalists, but should not be considered as compromises at all.  The reason?  These exemptions merely guarantee that clergy cannot be compelled to officiate at same-sex marriages, or be penalized for not doing so.  But, as Franck observes, nobody doubts that they would enjoy such an immunity in any case under the First Amendment.  Such exemptions are a kind of phony concession, securing in state law a right already secured by the Constitution.

Franck raises a number of other troubling questions for the future, if same-sex marriage should become a right and the law of the land.  Will public accommodations law be applied against religious businesses or individuals who in conscience do not wish to be implicated in same-sex marriage?  That is, if churches and ministers are exempt from having to give their sanction to same-sex weddings, will, say, owners of facilities for rent, or photographers, come within the ambit of such laws and be subject to legal action simply for refusing to participate professionally in such weddings?  In another area of the law, will religious institutions that maintain, and try to live according to, the traditional definition of marriage be permitted to maintain their tax-exempt status?


Franck is an expert in constitutional law, and he makes his case in detail, in relation to the relevant areas of law and Supreme Court precedents.  The most powerful part of his argument, however, is his recognition of what might be called the moral force of the position in support of same-sex marriage, a force that arises from its own moral logic.  The proponents of same-sex marriage have not merely presented it as something they think justifiable as public policy, while recognizing that others of good will might disagree.  Instead, they have opted for scorched earth rhetoric, accusing their opponents of being bigots, the modern day equivalents of the benighted racists of the 1950s and 1960s.  But if the defenders of traditional marriage can be written off as bigots, then it will be easy for our governing institutions to conclude that they have only minimal rights worth protecting: a right to think what they want, maybe a right to say what they want, but hardly any right to live as they want.

I highly recommend the whole article, which you can read here.



  • Pingback: The Social Conservative Review: June 20, 2013 | Pro-Life News

  • JackB

    Would someone properly define religious liberty for one who is theologically weaker than thou?

  • Chris

    Marriage is an institution for supporting natural healthy environments for procreating and raising kids. I think as a country we recently lost our mind!

  • Kevin

    The oncoming “religious persecution” due to marriage equality is a strawman. Are Catholic Churches forced to marriage divorced persons? Or couples of mixed religion? Look at the many countries and States that have had marriage equality for years now. No religious persecution insofar as Church ceremonies go. Now, when retailers refuse to serve gay clients, that gets tricky, morally, politically and legally.

    • Esnofla

      Tricky…I like that. So, the government tells me, a private business owner who I must serve? And if I don’t, then in the country of the free, the media attack me and gay rights activists protest me (just like they tried to do with Chic-fil-a but it failed miserably).

      Don’t even add morally. Like it is my moral duty as a Christian to bake a cake for two gay people. Or it’s my moral duty to rent a room or an apartment or a home to two gay people. Or it’s my moral duty to allow an openly gay child to play with my child. Or that it is my moral duty that I read to my five year old how Jimmy has two dads or that Prince Charles can marry another prince.


    • John

      Kevin, divorced persons are not protected under anti-discrimination law or by hate crime legislation. They are not a protected group. Neither are mixed-religion couples. Gays are.


    We already know, based upon the admission of homosexual activists recently, that their demand for the right to marry has nothing to do with the right to marry. They do not want marriage; they want to do away with marriage altogether — for everyone. Sadly, many of the “rank and file” of homosexuals have bought into the idea of marriage with their partners, and are willing dupes for the activists because of the pressure being brought to bear on politicians, churches and the general public. No doubt eventually the homosexuals who wish to marry will get their way, just as no doubt they eventually will divorce on even a grander scale than heterosexual couples. The real problem that is confronting all of us is whether these activists will be successful in eventually eradicating marriage itself. They have any number of allies insofar as those individuals who have professed for decades that marriage is “only a piece of paper”; those who will cite the high divorce rate as reason enough to dispense with marriage; and, the usual run-of-the-mill liberals who never saw a “cause” that they didn’t embrace, whether they understood the ramifications of it or not. Therefore, we do need to stress the importance of marriage in our society and the necessity of protecting it, nurturing it and promoting it among the young, in particular.

    • Larry

      Why would any group want to “do away with marriage altogether?” What would be their intent?

      • David J. White

        To make all children wards of the state, and ensure that their parents have no right to raise them in a manner of which the state disapproves, including teaching them that homosexual activity is immoral and wrong.

        • Larry

          Oh my!

  • Slats

    Carson, I read Franck’s piece, and the issue I take with it is that opponents of same-gender “marriage” seem to be accepting the non-distinctions of proponents of same-gender marriage, and thus abandoning their own belief systems as they enter into the fray. For Catholics, our opposition to same-gender “marriage” rests on, among other considerations, the distinction we make between same-gender attraction and same-gender genital activities (which would include same-gender relationships in which those activities were ongoing). We as Catholics don’t believe there is anything morally wrong (there is something disordered, but not morally wrong) with being same-gender attracted; our issue is rather with the “acting-out.” The attraction may or may not be inherent (i.e., genetic or hormonally-acquired and now unchangeable), but if it is, that is the part of the distinction which would be analogous to racism. “Bigot” is not a term which can be appropriately applied to people based on their preferences of the behavior of others. Since Catholics have an issue with behavior, and not with anything inherent to the person, calling us “bigots” is fundamentally erroneous if we follow the teachings of our faith. For example, in the Bob Jones case, the university was saying that blacks and whites couldn’t get married because of who they were, that it was wrong according to them for blacks and whites to marry. The argument was based on the assertion of the inferiority of black persons, a bigotry. In the case of two people of the same gender, it’s that the act they propose – having the state recognize their relationship based on same-gender genital activities – is fundamentally different than the act that a man or woman of any race proposes in seeking the state’s recognition of their relationship based on natural marital relations. The genital acts which are the foundation of the proposed relationship are of a completely different nature. It’s about behavior and actions, not persons.

    The Church in the United States needs to pour large amounts of money into ad campaigns in print, on television, on the internet, etc. assertively promulgating the person/behavior distinction, for the sake of informing our own people as well as the public at large. And furthermore, this distinction needs to be brought forcefully into the legal discussions.

    • Candace

      The Church’s distinctions between same gender attraction and same gender activity that you talk about is more likely an error in theology brought on by the homo lobby in the Church. This is what got us into trouble when priests with same-sex attraction were allowed into the Church. Our savior has another opinion in Mathew 5:28 “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I am sure this applies to both genders.

      • Paul Sadek

        Candace…The Lord is technically referring to an “activity.” You’ve heard of “averting one’s eyes” to avoid sin? It doesn’t remove the attraction or temptation (not a sin), but DOES avoid “looking with lust and desire” (sin). We need to be clear: Being ATTRACTED to what cannot, morally, be ours is not in the same category as willfully wishing, longing, and lusting for it. The latter IS in the same category as taking the steps to HAVE it.

      • Slats

        What? In that Gospel passage, Jesus isn’t saying that it’s adultery to be attracted to the woman. If that were the case, no Christian would ever get married for anything other than financial reasons! Rather, he is saying, to choose to look upon her with an intent to use her thereby, i.e. with lust in his heart. Modern science has revealed that, especially for men, a release of hormones similar (but of lesser dose) to that during the completion of the marital act takes place when he looks for an extended period on something which is visually and sexually stimulating. It is a choice to do this. This is largely what our Lord would seem to be talking about. Moreover, the Catholic faith has always held that there is a clear difference between temptation and sin. Our Lord was tempted in the wilderness, but was without sin. Sin is a choice. In the case of what Jesus cites, there’s a distinction between looking with lust and having an inclination to look. If the latter were grave matter, no heterosexual male on the planet would any hope whatsoever of remaining in sanctifying grace. I say that as a heterosexual male. I cannot speak for women or same-gender-attracted men.

        The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the guide for what Catholics believe, and it makes this distinction. To fail to make this distinction is legitimately a form of bigotry, because it takes something which is almost always inherent to the person (whether genetically or set environmentally through the activity of hormones in adolescence) and turns it into a sin. So what you’re saying is that a person who has a same-gender attraction which cannot be overcome by therapy commits mortal sin by the simple act of continuing to live and breathe. That’s like saying all black people are going to hell. It’s evil. I might recommend for you the Hillsboro Baptist Church. They think people are going to hell for whom they’re attracted to as well.

        And I say as this as someone who is very likely just as concerned and upset by said lobby and its influence over the Church through the centuries (there’s documentation of same-gender attracted priests dating back to the early middle ages) as you are. If we fail to make the distinction, we become in fact the haters that our enemies say we are. You might consult 1 John 4:20 on this matter as well.

        • Ronald

          For Those who favour Same-Sex Marriage Rights the Catholic distinction between same gender attraction and same gender activity are completely irrelevant and obsolete. They simply want it their way and what they want is that they can act freely accordingt to their attraction. In their mind any rejection of homosexual activity is just discrimination. The Catholic prohibition to act out is regarded by them as cruel and hypocritical, because it permits the attraction but prohibits the action. The Church should be aware of this and realize that this is an all-out war on Religious Freedom. The Church shouldn’t think that it can win this war by ‘playing nice’. The Church’s leaders should be very clear and unambiguous here that the homosexual inclination is a disorder and thus a wrong of nature, and that all homosexual activity, whether in thought, word or deed, is mortally sinful.

          • Slats

            Ronald, I essentially agree with you. In the secular mind, there is no distinction. And you are correct, the inclination is a disorder. Of course, they will continue to label us incorrectly as bigots, and we have to be ready with the firm reiteration of our beliefs to explain why this label is wrong.

            What we cannot do is actually be bigots and throw out what our Church teaches about these matters. And while we may or may not be able to or be guided in prudence to “play nice,” failing to show charity in our presentation of truth is not an option. In my opinion, of course.

          • Paul Sadek

            You’re quite right, Ronald, but it’s what I often call “willful ignorance.” At its basic level, it’s the difference between “wanting to do something” and “doing it.” Really, who can’t see the difference there? Those who practice willful ignorance.



Receive our updates via email.