None of the Religious Right’s arguments against marriage equality are particularly strong, but some are much worse than others.
Here’s the weakest one: Clergy will be forced to officiate at same-sex weddings. The far right has been shopping this one around since Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage in 2004. That was 11 years ago. How many members of the clergy in Massachusetts have been forced to perform marriages for same-sex couples since then? How many have been fined or are sitting in prison for refusing?
Zero. Zilch. None.
The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees, among other things, the “free exercise” of religion. This means the government can’t interfere in purely religious functions or dictate how faith groups handle sacraments or to whom they offer them.
A Protestant couple can’t walk into a Catholic church and demand to be married. The priest will tell them that they first must take instruction in the Catholic faith and become church members. He may impose other conditions as well. If the couple doesn’t like it, their only option is to hit the bricks; they have no recourse in courts.
Despite the frankly foolish nature of this argument, the Religious Right continues to raise it. Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who surely knows better, made the claim during the April 28 oral argument over marriage equality before the high court.
When Scalia continued to press the claim, Justice Elena Kagan pointed out to him that some orthodox rabbis will not marry a couple unless both parties are Jewish, and they’ve never been sanctioned or fined for that. There was a tone of annoyance in Kagan’s voice, which is understandable. Scalia appeared to be wasting the court’s time by pandering to the Religious Right, echoing an argument that simply can’t stand up to even a moment’s scrutiny.
As marriage equality spreads in the United States, clergy who sprout homophobia and hate may find themselves being challenged by people who consider their theology distasteful and divisive. Perhaps their churches will lose members, and they may find that the culture increasingly marginalizes their view.
The culture may do these things; the government will not. As long as we have a First Amendment, houses of worship will remain free to decide which couples they will marry and what conditions they will impose on those couples. Would Americans United support the right of a pastor to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage? Of course. We are quite capable of opposing a church’s policy while recognizing its absolute right to hold that view.
Claims that houses of worship will be forced to host, perform, sanction and bless same-sex marriages are desperate scare tactics. The argument is not persuasive in the least, and if the leaders of the Religious Right had any sense, they’d quit making it.