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Gay Rights & Marriage vs. Religious Liberty

Does Equality for Gays Threaten Religious Liberty in America?

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Opposition to equal civil rights for gays comes in many forms. Religious conservatives are losing the argument that there is something necessarily wrong with homosexuality, so they appear to be turning to a new one: treating gays like fully equal citizens and human beings is incompatible with conservatives’ religious liberty. Since when did the preservation of religious liberty require treating members of a minority like second-class citizens?

Rick Duncan, Welpton Professor of Law at the University of Nebraska College of Law, exemplifies this position:

    If gay rights laws are enacted, religious persecution follows inexorably. [R]eligious dissenters...are marginalized and stigmatized as “homophobes” and as outlaws... Public school curricula soon reflect the change in the law, and our children are made a captive audience for learning the new social understanding of marriage and family and of unlawful discrimination. [...]

    In contemoprary America, the greatest threat to religious liberty is the gay rights/gay marriage movement...

    I would leave my church and join another, if my church suddenly discovered that the Bible’s teachings about human sexuality and marriage and family were no longer true. In my opinion, my church would no longer be a “Christian” church if it adopted such a theology. [...]

    This is why some of us fight so hard against gay rights and gay marriage — gay rights/marriage are incompatible (at least in certain situations) with religious liberty.

What if he had written:

    If civil rights laws are enacted, religious persecution follows inexorably. [R]eligious dissenters...are marginalized and stigmatized as “racists” and as outlaws... Public school curricula soon reflect the change in the law, and our children are made a captive audience for learning the new social understanding of desegregation and family and of unlawful discrimination. [...]

    In contemporary America, the greatest threat to religious liberty is the civil rights/interracial marriage movement...

    I would leave my church and join another, if my church suddenly discovered that the Bible’s teachings about human segregation and marriage and race were no longer true. In my opinion, my church would no longer be a “Christian” church if it adopted such a theology. [...]

    This is why some of us fight so hard against civil rights and interracial marriage — civil rights/marriage are incompatible (at least in certain situations) with religious liberty.

There’s no real difference between the two aside from the identity of those being targeted: blacks or gays. When faced with this problem, Rick Duncan insisted that teachings about “homosexuality, unlike race, strikes at the very essence of the Created Order, from Genesis 1 to the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.”

This shows how ignorant some Christians are of Christian history and theology in America. For a long time, race was also part of the essence of the Created Order, based upon how Christians read Genesis 9. For them, the separation of the races, as well as the inferiority of non-whites, were undeniable biblical truths — no less secure and divinely ordained than the definition of marriage as one man and one woman.

Slavery, Segregation, and Hatred of Gays

Both slavery and segregation were based upon religious beliefs; it would have been easy for slavers or segregationists to make the same argument Rick Duncan offers: it’s incompatible with religious liberty to treat blacks like equal human beings or equal citizens. Ultimately, they lost the cultural, social, and political arguments. Society changed, and today both slavery and segregation are wrong. People who argue that whites are superior to others and should have access to special privileges unavailable to non-whites — even if they base their claim on religious beliefs — are labeled racists and ejected from polite company.

The same will eventually happen with gays in America. Even today, it’s harder to be openly bigoted against gays than it was a couple of decades ago, with the main exception being bigotry framed in religious terms. At some point, though, such bigotry will be treated with the same contempt as racial bigotry framed in religious terms. Christians will have to choose between social ostracization or modifying their views — just as they have had to do on racial issues. This isn’t a threat to religious liberty because no one has a religious “right” to hold and advocate views without social consequences.

Christians who think that equal rights for gays is a threat to their religious beliefs are sincere, but are also sincerely immoral and wrong. People like this have opposed justice and liberty throughout American history — always for other people, of course, and always on the basis of their religious traditions. It’s because of them that religion has consistently been on the side of oppressors, even as those seeking justice have tried to turn things around and use it on behalf of liberty.

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