The Parade of Privilege: How Government Favors Religion (Privilege #8: Second Class Marriage)

Luis Granados, director of the AHA’s publishing house, Humanist Press, responds to the Catholic bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom, a 14-day campaign which, according to the Washington Post, “purports to champion religious freedom, but in actuality distorts it by promoting the use of religion as a license to discriminate.”

Religious Privilege #8: Second Class Marriage

One of the main drivers behind the bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign is the church’s visceral opposition to same-sex marriage. Now, if the government were to force people to marry others of their same sex, that would certainly violate religious (and other) liberty. But how does broadening freedom for a minority take away from the religious or other liberty of anyone else? For the simple reason, says the church, that “religious liberty” requires the freedom to discriminate in myriad ways against those in lawful marriages of which the church disapproves. A freedom which it already has, even in the handful of states like New York that have legalized same-sex marriage.

For example, will the Knights of Columbus be required to open its halls for same-sex weddings? Will Catholic adoption agencies be allowed to refuse to place children with same-sex married couples? Can a Muslim motel owner refuse to rent rooms to a same-sex married couple? The compromise reached in the New York law unambiguously exempts religious organizations, even tangentially related ones like the Knights of Columbus, from having to give ordinary civil rights to same-sex spouses. Of course, that’s not enough for the bishops, who want to extend the freedom to discriminate (euphemistically called “conscience protection”) to individuals like the Muslim motel owner. It shouldn’t be a demanding legal challenge, though, for individual haters to affiliate themselves with some sort of church organization so they can thumb their nose at the law as well.

When you think about the civil rights of same-sex spouses, try doing so in terms of another type of marriage that until recent times was railed against by Christianity: miscegenation, or mixed-race marriage. The Catholic Church actually had a good record on this, but most Protestant churches did not. As Richmond’s Christian Herald put it, “God has made the two races widely different not only in complexion, but in their instincts and social qualities. We take it for granted it was not the purpose of the Creator that they should be blended. Nature abhors the union.” Former President Harry Truman was blunter, telling a reporter that mixed-race marriage “ran counter to the teachings of the Bible,” while Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell warned that miscegenation would “destroy our [white] race eventually.”

So should it be ok for churches or church-related organizations to refuse to serve mixed-race couples, if that’s what their religion commands? If not, then why should churches or church-related organizations be allowed to refuse to serve same-sex couples, whose marriages are just as valid?

Visit the American Humanist Association’s Facebook page every day through July 4 where we counter the Catholic bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom by posting a special privilege experienced only by churches in the United States.