Christianity,  Politics

Gay Marriage, Religious Exemptions, and Religious Liberty

When the New York legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage last month, there were a handful of representatives who formerly opposed gay marriage but who switched their vote to legalize it. To a man, they justified their decision on the basis of the “religious exemptions” that would supposedly protect religious organizations from having to violate their religious beliefs.

Anyone paying attention knows that such exemptions are flimsy and probably won’t stand the scrutiny of the courts. But even more troubling is the fact that the exemptions do not cover religious individuals, but only religious organizations. This difficulty is not theoretical but has already come to a head in Vermont (another state where gay marriages are legal).

Recently, a devout Roman Catholic couple who own an Inn in Vermont declined to host a wedding reception for a lesbian couple (read about it here). The owners, Jim and Mary O’Reilly, issued a statement saying that they believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. They explain:

“We have never refused rooms or dining or employment to gays or lesbians. Many of our guests have been same-sex couples. We welcome and treat all people with respect and dignity. We do not however, feel that we can offer our personal services wholeheartedly to celebrate the marriage between same-sex couples because it goes against everything that we as Catholics believe in.”

After the O’Reilly’s refused to host the reception, the lesbian couple teamed up with the ACLU to sue the O’Reilly’s for violating Vermont’s law regarding public accommodation. Even though the O’Reilly’s regularly accommodate gays and lesbians, their religious convictions prevent them from hosting an event that would celebrate what their faith prohibits. As a result, this lesbian couple and the ACLU intend to punish the O’Reilly’s for their faithfulness to their religious beliefs.

Legal gay marriage is certain to provoke many more such challenges to religious liberty, and there will be no religious exemption for small business owners like the O’Reilly’s. Get ready because this is only the beginning.


  • Paul

    shouldn’t they be forced to accommodate the couple via the civil rights act? That’s probably the grounds that they would win on, and if that’s the case, then they’d win that battle in any of the 50 states.

  • Mark D McKeen

    I find it ironic how Christians and Catholics (anyone who believes in traditional marriage for that matter) are judged and criticized for holding up their religious beliefs, but when homosexuals hold up their religious beliefs, no one is allowed to judge or criticize them.

    It just goes to show the intolerance to Christianity of our ‘land of tolerance.’ What hypocrisy! The liberals want tolerance for everything except Christianity.

    Now, I understand why this happens. Christianity holds up a moral standard that mankind in its sinfulness does not want to acknowledge. The morals of Christianity prove to man his sinfulness and guilt before a holy God.

  • Dillon

    I read the first book in a series by Jerry Jenkins where, essentially, being Christian is a crime punishable by death.

    Sometimes I can honestly see it realized.

  • Saint and Sinner

    I knew this was coming! If the left sees homosexuality as the next civil rights movement, then even private organizations will not be exempt from hiring and accommodating homosexuals.

    Our churches and seminaries are next! Later, we could be refused jobs or fired for holding fast to our beliefs. Persecution is fast approaching.

    I’ve always thought about the well-meaning Evangelical who votes Democrat. Every time they do so, they are voting away their religious freedoms. [And no, I won’t take that back!]

  • donsands

    Why don’t the homosexuals find another place to have their reception?

    You would think this fine kind women would understand others convictions, wouldn’t you.

    Haven’t read the article, so I am just throwing this out from the heart.
    The homosexuals are no different than any other sinners. It’s a selfish pride type of thing with some homosexuals, and others would probably search elsewhere to have a reception.

    We need to share the Gospel with all those who reject the truth, and also surely in America we can stand up for our freedoms that were established in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, under God, and with great Christian influence.

    I also pray for the Catholic family, if they have a different gospel, that they would come to Christ as well.

  • RD

    I have relatives who live in the south who fervently believe it is an abomination (biblically supported, they proclaim) for a black and a white to marry one another. If my relatives owned an inn, they would refuse to rent a reception room to a black man and a white woman based on their religious beliefs and their interpretation of scripture.

    If the law says that two people of different races can be legally married, would my relatives be breaking the law?

  • yankeegospelgirl

    No they wouldn’t. It’s their inn and their reception room and they can do what they want with it. They’re not crashing the wedding and kidnapping the girl. They’re just making it a little bit less convenient for the couple to arrange their wedding. Do I agree with this? No, I don’t. But it wouldn’t be illegal.

  • david

    Donsands makes an interesting point when he prays for the catholic family that they will come to Christ as well. My parents are evangelical born again Southern Baptists. What many don’t understand is that they believe Catholics will all end up in hell because the Catholic faith does not require you be saved and accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. Catholics also worship false idols with all those statues of the virgin mary they are fond of. The point is the members of most religions believe they are right in their faith and everyone else has it wrong. Thats fine, crazy as it may be you are free to believe what ever you want but when you have a facility open to the public you can not discriminate based on your personal beliefs. Thank God for that because I would hate to see all those mis-guided Catholics being discriminated against since they are sinners and have not been born again. My God fearing Baptist parents would never want to see one of their children mary a Catholic.

  • Pastor Matt

    This isn’t the first time this has happened. Check out the Elane Photography case in New Mexico here:

    and there was also a case where a lesbian couple sued the Methodist district of New Jersey for refusing to rent out a pavillion they owned for a civil union ceremony.

    Unfortunately, evangelicals have sat silent and, as a result, there will be more of this to come until, like Ake Green in Sweden, we can be jailed for preaching on texts such as Romans 1-2.

  • RD


    They can’t simply do what they want with their inn if they are operating it as a public business, offering a service (renting rooms for lodging and reception halls for events) to the general public. Their establishment is no different than a Hampton Inn or a DoubleTree Hotel in this regard. The state of Vermont declared these two women to be legally married. Since they wanted to have their reception at the inn then the wedding ceremony would have been complete and they would have already been married, legally, by virtue of Vermont state law. The innkeepers were, in essence, choosing which state laws they would recognize and which laws they wouldn’t. As a public business they simply can’t do that. The two lesbians were every bit as married under the laws of Vermont as any other married couple in the state.

  • Donald Johnson

    This is an example why I say that the best alternative is for government to get OUT of the business of defining marriage. But that alternative becomes less possible every day.

  • Paul

    Donald – I’ve been saying that for years.

    Make every “marriage” a civil union.

    If people want to get religiously married, they can do so.

    If THAT were the case, religious exemptions could be written in that give churches the right of refusal for all couples, gay and straight.

    The article does make a good point, even if I’m going to frame it a little differently…

    If you’re vehemently “x,” why would you want to do business in a state that is clearly “y”? The state tourism board makes no bones about it being a destination point for the LGBT community. If you’re against people celebrating their gayness, then you’re operating the wrong business in the wrong state.

    And, just in case other homophobic (yes, they are. If you’re in the business of serving people, either serve them or get out of the business) inn keepers from Vermont are flocking to Denny’s site and see this very comment, allow me to make a suggestion. If someone calls about their LGBT reception, reunion, etc, etc, etc, tell them that you’re booked for the evening. Then, either book the room at a discount in a hurry, or host a charity event, the entirety of which would be write off-able anyway. The sue happy lesbians don’t know any better, somebody either gets a great deal or an event hosted for them, and you don’t have to get gay on the seats. All is good in the world.

    You’re welcome, inn keepers of Vermont.

  • JohnnyM


    The Civil Rights Act does not cover sexual orientation, so they can choose not to hold the reception there. Just like they could choose not to hold my reception because they don’t like the color of my shoes. If the couple was black or Jewish and they turned them down, then that would be a violation of the Civil Rights Act.

  • RD


    The Vermont fair accomodations act has a provision that prohibits hotels, motels, restaurants, etc from discriminating based on sexual orientation. There is no federal civil rights legislation that addresses protection for sexual orientation but there are many states that have enacted their own civil rights legislation that does protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Vermont is one.

  • Jared O


    That’s fine and dandy, and I’m going to take your word on all the laws in Vermont, but the point is: as these laws continue to pass, the rights that are continually being taken away is the right of Christians to practice and uphold their religious beliefs.

    The law is forcing Christians to go against their religion. That is hardly “freedom of religion.” Whereas this couple still could have had their reception, just somewhere else.

  • texasnazgirl

    I think one reason more and more of OUR religious freedoms are being taken away, is simply because we do not fight for them. Anti-religious groups are winning more and more of their arguements and getting laws changed in their favor simply because they stand up and argue for them. We Christians need to learn to do the same thing. Otherwise, we have no right to complain when our rights are taken away.

  • RD


    As Christians we routinely engage those with whom we don’t always agree religiously. Especially if you are a Christian who owns a public service business. Motel proprietors and managers routinely rent rooms to unmarried couples. Event halls rent meeting space to companies who put on seminars for business opportunities that are, at best, bogus. When you choose to run a business you are aware that you must obey the laws of the state you are doing business in even if personally oppose some of them.

    Yes, I’m sure the lesbian women could have chosen a different venue, but I suppose the question is, Why should they have to? The state they live in recognizes them as legally married. They obviously found the venue appealing and wanted to be treated just like any other paying customer would be treated. I can’t speak for the owners of the inn, but I wonder if they’ve ever knowingly rented rooms to people who weren’t married? And if they have, I wonder if they’d do so again.

  • RD

    These are the issues that Christian business owners must come to terms with prior to going into business. I don’t know if any of you folks have Chik-Fil-A restaurants in your area (best fried chicken sandwich ANYWHERE!!!). The owner, Truett Cathy, is a Christian. He has chosen not to open his stores for business on Sundays because he feels that it would be violating the scriptural admonition to observe the Sabbath. He can make that choice based on his religious convictions. He can’t, however, operate a public service business and choose who he will sell a chicken sandwich to. He must (and should) provide his service to people of all religious persuasions (or none), to gays, straights, democrats and republicans, etc.

  • RD


    I don’t think so. Seminaries, unlike restaurants, inns, hotels, car washes, movie theaters, etc etc, aren’t public service businesses open to all.

  • RD

    Interestingly, the Wildflower Inn – the owners of which refused to rent the reception hall to the lesbian couple – markets itself with Vermont tourism agencies as being a wonderful destination for weddings and receptions. They advertise themselves as offering “Four Seasons for Everyone”. I think this is the reason for the lawsuit. If you are going to run a business, solicit referrals from state tourism agencies, and promote your business as being appropriately enjoyable to “everyone”, then you’d best make sure you really mean that before you make it an integral part of your marketing strategy.

  • Paul

    RD –

    “I think this is the reason for the lawsuit. If you are going to run a business, solicit referrals from state tourism agencies, and promote your business as being appropriately enjoyable to “everyone”, then you’d best make sure you really mean that before you make it an integral part of your marketing strategy.”

    Exactly what I said in my comment that is still awaiting moderation.

  • Saint and Sinner


    “I don’t think so. Seminaries, unlike restaurants, inns, hotels, car washes, movie theaters, etc etc, aren’t public service businesses open to all.”

    I’m no Constitutional scholar, but I don’t believe that whether it is private or public matters. Bob Jones University’s tax exempt status was revoked because of its racial policies. If these states see gay rights as the next civil rights, then our seminaries and churches are next.

  • Paul

    Bob Jones should have been shut down for crimes against common sense. I don’t know that I would have used that college for an a/b comparison.

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