ELECTION 08: 'Gay marriage' legalization would squash religious freedom, experts say
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a special series of stories that Baptist Press will run between now and Nov. 4. Stories will run on Wednesdays and Fridays.
LEXINGTON, Mass. (BP)--Robb and Robin Wirthlin didn't want to believe their son. In fact, they thought he might have just misunderstood the teacher's lesson, as second-graders sometimes do.
So when he came home in March 2006 and told his parents his public school teacher had read the class a children's book about "gay marriage" -- the story of a prince supposedly marrying another prince -- his parents wanted to check out the facts. To their surprise and dismay, though, the teacher had indeed read the book, which ends with a depiction of the two men kissing. "Gay marriage," after all, is legal in the state.
To make matters worse, the Wirthlins were told they would not be given advance notice in the future about any such books.
It's the type of story the Wirthlins and others warn will become commonplace if "gay marriage" remains legal in California and is legalized elsewhere, as religious freedom clashes with what homosexual activists view as a civil right.
And, those same people say, conservatives shouldn't count on the courts. The Wirthlins filed a lawsuit in federal court against the school, but a lower court ruled against them, asserting that "diversity is a hallmark of our nation" and that such diversity "includes differences in sexual orientation." The parents, the judge ruled, could always homeschool their son or send him to private school if they didn't like the public school options. A federal appeals court upheld the decision.
"People really need to wake up, because this, I think, is the greatest threat to our liberty that we face today -- bar none," Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty legal organization, told Baptist Press. "There is no greater threat to our liberty, our speech and our free exercise of religion than the same-sex agenda."
Jordan Lorence, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, another religious liberty organization, agreed.
"This is not a made-up threat," Lorence told BP. "This is not some sort of concocted Chicken Little cry. These are actual cases, and as those supporters of same-sex marriage get more and more bold, we'll see more action to punish and silence us."
The Wirthlins, wanting their story heard, are actively promoting proposed constitutional marriage amendments in California and Florida, saying families in those two states could experience what they did if the initiatives don't pass.
The Wirthlins' case, though, is but the tip of the iceberg in what has become a steady load of controversies putting religious freedom on the line in same-sex disputes:
-- In New Mexico, where "gay marriage" is not legal, a lesbian couple filed a complaint with the state's civil rights commission after a husband-and-wife-owned photography company refused to take pictures of their commitment ceremony. The husband and wife asserted that the ceremony violated their Christian beliefs, but the commission disagreed, ruling earlier this year that the company discriminated and ordering them to pay $6,600 in attorneys' fees.
-- In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities shut down its adoption work -- which was widely praised -- rather than follow a state rule requiring that homosexuals be allowed to adopt. The religious organization made the move in 2006 after more than a century of adoption work. It had handled more adoptions of foster care children than any agency in Massachusetts.
-- In New Jersey, a lesbian couple filed a complaint with the state's civil rights office after officials with an oceanfront religious retreat center owned by members of the United Methodist Church refused to allow the two women to use a pavilion for a same-sex civil union ceremony. (Civil unions are legal in the state.) The state last year agreed with the couple and removed the tax-exempt status of the pavilion, located in Ocean Grove.
"The list goes on and on," Staver said. "Whenever you have same-sex marriage or same-sex civil unions, you end up having a clash between the same-sex agenda and freedom of religion. The two are not compatible, because the same-sex agenda seeks to force by law acceptance of its view, and that will inevitably collide with Christian values."
California currently is embroiled in a debate over what happened to the Wirthlins in Massachusetts possibly happening in California. Supporters of Proposition 8 -- the ballot name for the proposed marriage amendment -- say it could, but opponents are desperately trying to convince the public that it couldn't. Prop 8 opponents have released an ad showcasing California superintendent of schools Jack O'Connell, who claims that "Prop 8 has nothing to do with school or kids." He goes on to claim that "our schools aren't required to teach anything about marriage." While that may be technically true, Prop supporters say, it is -- practically at least -- misleading.
Frank Schubert, campaign manager for ProtectMarriage.com -- the main organization promoting Prop 8 -- points out that 96 percent of school districts in the state do teach the optional sex education courses that mention marriage, according data on the state website. California law requires schools that teach comprehensive sex-education to include "instruction and materials" that "teach respect for marriage and committed relationships." And, if "gay marriage" remains legal, then schools that teach sex-ed will be required to include homosexuals in the definition of marriage, Prop 8 supporters say.
Two events in recent days seemed to underscore the arguments made by Prop 8 backers. First, a public school first-grade class in San Francisco took a mid-day field trip to city hall to celebrate the "gay wedding" of their lesbian teacher. Then, the California Teachers Association donated more than $1 million to opponents of Prop 8.
"We're seeing the transformation of the curricula to reflect those [liberal] values," Lorence said.
After Massachusetts legalized "gay marriage," National Public Radio interviewed a lesbian teacher in Brookline who teaches eighth-grade sex-ed and tells the students not only about heterosexual but homosexual sex. She teaches them that lesbians can have intercourse with sex toys. "If somebody wants to challenge me, I say, 'Give me a break. It's legal now,'" she told NPR.
But parents should not just have concern about public schools, Staver and Lorence say. Down the road, the tax-exempt status of churches could be challenged as homosexuality and "sexual orientation" increasingly are placed alongside race in anti-discrimination laws. The goal of homosexual activists, Staver said, is to transform society so much that it views opponents of "gay marriage" in the same light it views racists.
"That's the agenda. It's always been the agenda," Staver said. "There is no question that if same-sex marriage becomes legal, that churches eventually will have their tax-exempt status threatened -- no question whatsoever. If churches today discriminate against race, they would not be able to have tax-exempt status today. If churches discriminate on the basis of same-sex marriage -- if it became legal -- then same-sex marriage becomes the equivalent of race, and churches would not be able to have tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage."
If Staver's prediction comes true, it could impact everything from adoption agencies to Christian school accreditation to licensing for professional counselors, Lorence said. It even could impact church plants who wish to use or rent a public facility.
"The coercive aspect of this cannot be overstated, in my opinion," Lorence said.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To learn more about proposed marriage amendments in Arizona, California and Florida and how you can help them pass, visit YesforMarriage.com (Arizona), ProtectMarriage.com (California) and Yes2Marriage.org (Florida).