July/August 2008 Church & State | People & Events

Religious Right groups are furious over a ruling by the California Supreme Court authorizing same-sex marriages, but Americans United for Separation of Church and State has pointed out that nothing in the decision requires houses of worship to perform or recognize these unions.

In a May 15 ruling, the California high court majority held that the state constitution mandates that same-sex couples have the same right to the benefits of civil marriage as opposite-sex couples. The justices made clear, however, that the ruling applies only to civil marriages. Religious communities remain free to marry same-sex couples or not, in keeping with their theology.

“[A]ffording same-sex couples the opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official, or any other person; no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs,” observed the court.

The court cited Article I, Section 4 of the California Constitution, which says in part, “Free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference are guaranteed” and “The Legislature shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said, “This decision is an important victory for church-state separation. The court majority made it very clear that civil marriage is a secular institution governed by principles of freedom.

“The court also made it clear that no congregation can be forced to marry people in violation of their theological standards,” Lynn continued. “That’s a strong reaffirmation of religious liberty.”

Religious Right leaders were enraged by the ruling.

“This decision put marriage at risk all across the nation and again highlights the need for a Marriage Protection Amendment to the U.S. Constitution so that this divisive campaign for the oxymoron of ‘same-sex marriage’ will be ended once and for all,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council

The Rev. Barrett Duke, vice president for governmental affairs for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he was “saddened for the people of California.”

“The California Supreme Court ruling not only overruled the very clear will of the people, it also proposes to overrule God’s design,” Duke said. “These judges may think they know more about marriage than the rest of us, but I am confident they don’t know more about marriage than God. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman….That’s not only my opinion and the opinion of most of the people in this country, it’s God’s opinion, and His opinion overrules the opinion of any judges.”

Same-sex marriages began taking place in the state June 17.