Christianity,  Politics

The Heart of the Issue on Legal Gay Marriage

Ben Domenech has a must-read commentary on gay marriage and the future of religious liberty. He argues that most of the public debate about gay marriage is peripheral chatter—spousal benefits, raising children, or redefining a foundational social institution. He contends that the fundamental issue in this debate is whether religious liberty will continue in the United States. I wish I could reprint the entire column here, but I can’t. Here’s a snippet:

The real problem with gay marriage is that the nature of the marriage union is inherently entwined in the future of the first line of the Bill of Rights: our right to religious liberty. Orthodox believers of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths were slow to understand this. I’m talking about something much bigger here than the discrimination lawsuits brought across the country against bakers and photographers: I’m talking about whether churches will be able to function as public entities in an era where their views on sin, particularly sexual sin, are in direct conflict with not just opinion but the law – and proselytizing those views from the pulpit or in the public square will be viewed as using the protection of religious expression to protect hateful speech.

We saw this problem already in Illinois’ marriage law, where churches that do not allow same sex unions would essentially have to close their doors to full participation in civil society. We see it as a constant issue regarding Canada’s hate speech laws, where courts must discern whether quoting Bible verses amounts to “harming the public discourse.” We will see it more here. That obvious oncoming clash strikes me as the most troublesome aspect of this, and the one that has received the least attention in the rush to legalize. The argument has been more about benefits and social outcomes and “won’t somebody think of the children”, ignoring the core problem, which raises challenges to the freedom of speech and expression the likes of which led to the pilgrims crossing the sea in the first place.

The conflict between sexual liberty and religious liberty is unlikely to be one the religious will win, in large part because of the broad and increasing acceptance of an idea President Obama has espoused more than once in public: that the religious have a freedom to worship, and that’s where it ends. When you leave the pew, you must leave your faith there. Among the religious, this is absurd – their entire lives are defined by their faith, in ways large and small. For both Christianity and Islam, the core of their faith is built on a call to take the message to the world, spreading it through public witness and preaching. Yet this belief in the limited freedom to worship is what led Obama’s administration to argue that faith-based hiring and firing is a discriminatory act for religious entities. It will lead to similar cases in the years to come regarding the marriage issue, but not just focused in that space – expect it to factor in divorce proceedings, custody battles, and more points involving the nice folks from Child Protective Services. Expect it also to factor in dramatically expanding the scope of these discrimination lawsuits – think on the doctor in California who was brought up on discrimination charges for referring a lesbian couple to a colleague for artificial insemination.

Read the rest here. I have said this before, and I will say it again. Americans have not even begun to think seriously about the implications of redefining marriage. There will be consequences that we all have to live with and that won’t be easy to roll-back once we’re all in.

Christians, you need to be paying attention. Religious liberty is on the line, and it will eventually affect you.


Ben Domenech authors a daily commentary called The Transom. It’s a subscription-only service and highly recommended if you are into wonky analysis of politics and culture. Subscribe here.


  • Paula Cullen

    This train has already left the station and is steamrolling to its final destination: destruction of Christian influence in western civilization. Many are being led astray, even the elect, if that were possible (Matthew 24:24). May we who believe abide faithfully until Christ returns, or until He pours out His Holy Spirit in a merciful revival across our nation.

  • Ken Nichols

    He has it right. The downgrading and eventual elimination of religious freedom is on a fast trajectory. Sadly, many Christians are still sleeping through all of this.
    But., it could be that the loss of religious freedom in America may be the only hope the church has. Perhaps the coming persecution will strengthen Christ’s church in North America as it has in Asia.

  • Lauren Betrand

    It’s always interesting how we use the term “Christians” when referring to threats to religious liberty, and yet there are huge swathes of Christians (particularly the non-Evangelicals) who aren’t feeling the least bit of this encroachment. Is the problem that those people aren’t “real” Christians because they don’t meet the conservative litmus test?

    • Daryl Little

      Well Biblcally speaking, if this issue isn’t an issue then I think there is reason to believe that the name of Christ is being misapplied.

    • Andrew Orlovsky

      Whether people who believe homosexual acts are not sinful are “true Christians” is up to God. But the Bible is quite clear on the fact the homosexual acts are sinful. If one does not believe the Bible when it comes to sexual relations, why believe the Bible on the reserrection of Jesus, or any of his miracles or teachings for that matter. If someone wants to be religious but refuses to believe homosexual acts are wrong, why choose Christianity, why not choose a New Age Religion or something?

      • Lauren Bertrand

        Unlike many gay apologists (and I’ll admit that I am one), I will concede that the Bible is very clear about same sex non-platonic relations. I don’t try to twist semantics. But perhaps, as a non-believer, I can at least approach this from a slightly more impartial angle than both liberal and conservative Christians. Sure, I have my own prejudices, but it is easy for me to see plenty of Christian dogma that the self-proclaimed Biblical literalists blithely ignore, while fixating on the gay issue. If someone wants to be religious but denies the obvious sins of gluttony, self-righteousness, lustful acts, pride, envy, or no-fault divorce followed by remarriage (and pretty much all Christians, liberal and conservative, ignore these strictures), who are they to claim their fabrication of the Christian edifice is ironclad and lacking in contradictions? Why don’t we ALL choose New Age, if we’re going to sacrifice the basics that are declared in the OT then reiterated in the NT?

        • Daryl Little

          ” If someone wants to be religious but denies the obvious sins of gluttony, self-righteousness, lustful acts, pride, envy, or no-fault divorce followed by remarriage (and pretty much all Christians, liberal and conservative, ignore these strictures), who are they to claim their fabrication of the Christian edifice is ironclad and lacking in contradictions?”

          Lauren, exactly so. Exactly so.

          But I would offer this push back:
          Those outside of the church are less likely to see the emphasis on these things (an emphasis often lacking, but in the church I attend, our leaders are wise and remind us that all sin is sinful) in large part because no one is trying to legally redefine any social structures to enforce the inclusion of gluttony, self-righteousness etc., as things against which we may not stand.
          Nor is anyone (to my knowledge) trying to redefine Biblical standards to say that not only are those things not sinful but are things which we should celebrate.
          Where is the “Lustful Christian” or “Envious Christian” groups which claim that those are beautiful attributes created by God?

          They don’t exist.

          So don’t imagine that not hearing about something means it isn’t an issue. All of those things are issues and I would suggest that part of the reason you’re not hearing it is because the church is called to judge the church and not the world, so as a non-believer, you shouldn’t be hearing about them.

          • Lauren Bertrand

            “No one is trying to legally redefine any social structures to enforce the inclusion of gluttony, self-righteousness etc., as things against which we may not stand.”

            Is it possible that the reason no one is trying to define these social structures (gluttony, self-righteousness) is because there simply is no real opposition? We already ARE a gluttonous society. Obese people don’t need to push for “Gluttonous Christian” rights, because we have fully embraced them already–they are straining the pews/chairs in every one of our churches.

            • Daryl Little


              No one is trying to redefine those things because, for the most part, people still view them as wrong. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for various kinds of sexual deviancy.

  • Kathleen A. Peck (@purisomniapura)

    Someone’s beliefs are going to be thrust onto the general public, the question is only whose? Obviously the govt. has decided it’s their rightful place to choose for all the standard by which all must adhere. What they fail to recognize is that so much of what they legislate comes out of their personal beliefs …so ultimately it will come down to who has the power to enforce their beliefs & who does not.

  • Chris Ryan

    Unlike Canada and Europe we have strong 1st Amendment protections in this country. No pastor will ever face jail for preaching that homosexuality is a sin. They won’t even lose their tax exempt status for it.

    Its wrong that Christians in Europe have faced unconscionable limits on preaching the Gospel, but Europe has strong hate speech laws. We have none whatsoever.

    For eight years, hundreds of churches nationwide have intentionally “tempted” the IRS to revoke their tax exempt status by preaching sermons which theoretically ran afoul of the law (eg, by endorsing specific parties/candidates which they did last year, or by preaching abt the sin of gay marriage which they did this year). They call it Pulpit Freedom Sunday. The IRS has completely ignored them so far, so I don’t think Christians have anything to worry about.

  • Andrew Orlovsky


    That might be true now, but I worry if that will be so 20 to 30 years down the road. After all, if the Supreme Court could decide that the killing of an unborn child is a “constitutional right”, I think its reasonable to believe an even more liberal court in the future could practically throw out the first amendement in cases they believe is “hate speech.”

  • James Bradshaw

    As a gay man who has sought to live with a sense of empathy and compassion for others, I have a hard time understanding the willingness of people to embrace the values of a book that recommends the following:

    If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
    But thou shalt surely kill him

    [If the] tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die

    If you’re going to support these precepts as moral and true, I think it’s a reasonable expectation that you witness and understand what you’re embracing. Granted, this is a fictional depiction, but it’s accurate, perhaps even a bit less horrific than the reality.

    Given the horrors of the above, why should I trust the moral compass of any of you?

    • Daryl Little

      Given the absolute inability of you, James, to be able to understand what one ought to do with texts relating to a now-obsolete covenant, why should anyone trust your judgement on anything Biblical.
      Empathy with others is a good thing. Absolute disregard for Scripture (righly undersood) and therefore any regard for the God who wrote them makes your claim irrelevant in the extreme.

    • Glenn Carrin

      You have drawn faulty implications of the above passage, and could maybe benefit from embracing some ANE diversity training.

  • James Bradshaw

    “Obsolete covenant”? Then why is Leviticus constantly being thrown in our faces, reminding us that “our blood is on our own heads” and that we are an “abomination”? This same covenant demands people be stoned to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, but this passage is conveniently ignored.

    “Rightly understood”? I don’t know what that means either. There is no univocal understanding of Scripture. Frankly, some of the most heated debates on religious blogs that I’ve seen aren’t about gay marriage but between Calvinists and Arminians about the doctrines of grace, and both appeal to the same Scripture.

    In any rate, there’s a Supreme Court decision coming soon. Whatever the outcome, I’m perfectly willing to seek and encourage compromise on issues regarding religious liberty, but it’s difficult to do so when folks incorrectly view us as devils from hell who should enjoy no legal protections in anything: not our relationships, our jobs, our homes. Why are people surprised when emotions run wild when we are being threatened at every level? What kind of reaction do you suppose is reasonable?

  • Gabe Keith

    So is it God’s command or the practice of people in the ANE? The idea that God would ever command something like this is plenty of justification to doubt the whole thing

  • Brett Cody

    I am not trying to take the discussion off on a tangent, but perhaps you should rethink your term “now-obsolete”. If you adhere to the doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture, how do you explain your term? How can the Word of God which will stand forever be ‘obsolete’.

    • Daryl Little

      Brett, yes, I thought of that after I wrote it.

      What I should’ve said is “fulfilled in Christ”. It is obsolete then, but not just because it has passed the expiry date but because, as a believer, the punishment the Old Covenant meted out for those sins, was paid by Christ on the cross. For the unbeliever those punishments will be paid for in hell for eternity.

      It’s a little more complicated than that I think, but that at least clarifies the “obsolete” comment.

  • Ian Shaw

    James, I would submit that those throwing leviticus at you have no little to no idea of the covenant structure in place in the OT that has been fulfulled thru the work, death and resurrection of Christ. If I am asked to make my Biblical points as to why I believe it is wrong, I use the NT and describe God’s created natural order that He established, not the OT, as using the OT only puts you into a trap and shows you don’t have an understanding of the covenant process and how Christ’s covenant with us superceeds those priors (while still not abolishing God’s moral laws).

  • Brett Cody

    Speaking as kindly as I can, when I am asked to label homosexual union with the term “marriage” I equate this with being asked to bow down to a false god. This is why I can’t agree with or accept homosexual “marriage”. I even believe it would be lying to my children, my neighbors and myself to call homosexuality a lifestyle that could possibly be marriage because I believe that marriage was created by God to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life. Yes, it is an institution that has been perverted in the past and abused by all kinds of evil inventions of humanity since its creation, but I do not endorse those evils in spite of their existence. While I wish divorce and polygamy did not exist in our country, that was not on the ballot for me to vote against. I have to stand on the Word of God and when given the opportunity to express my beliefs by my vote, I have and will continue to do so. Here I stand.

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