.- After the Supreme Court narrowly ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, religious leaders are highlighting the need to respect religious liberty in the United States.
Military Archbishop P. Timothy Broglio said in a June 26 op-ed that the Archdiocese of the Military Services “remains resolved in the belief that no Catholic priest will ever be compelled to condone – even silently – same-sex ‘marriages.’”
He stressed that “the Constitution guarantees that no endorsed minister will ever be compelled to perform a religious ceremony contrary to the dictates of his/her faith nor will today’s decision have any effect on the role and teaching ability of a priest or deacon in the pulpit, the classroom, the barracks or in the office.”
Questions over the protection of religious freedom were raised after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes.
In a 5-4 decision, the court majority ruled on June 26 that the law – also known as DOMA – treated same-sex “marriages” as “less respected than others” and so violated the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection under federal law.
As a result of the ruling, there is no longer one single definition of marriage for federal purposes. Rather, individual states may continue to define marriage as they wish, and the federal government must accept the marriages acknowledged by each state. Currently, just 12 states and the District of Columbia have redefined marriage to include gay couples, but efforts are underway to push for a redefinition in other states throughout the country as well.
The ruling immediately prompted concerns over potential threats to religious freedom. Already, religious groups and individuals have come under pressure to affirm same-sex relationships as “marriages,” even if doing so violates their religious convictions.
In states that have legalized “gay marriage,” Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to shut down because they would only place children in homes with a married mother and father.
Religious individuals in professions ranging from bed-and-breakfast owner to photographer to baker have also faced lawsuits, fines and even threatened jail time for following the teachings of their faith on the definition of marriage.
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who leads the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom committee, said the Supreme Court’s ruling poses “a serious threat to religious liberty and conscience rights for countless people of faith.”
Also of particular concern is religious freedom in the military, where chaplains have already reported harassment and threats of punishment for promoting and defending Church teaching on marriage.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that the “Department of Defense welcomes the Supreme Court's decision today on the Defense of Marriage Act.”
He added that the “Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses – regardless of sexual orientation – as soon as possible. That is now the law, and it is the right thing to do.”
Chaplains and clergy within the armed services are members of the military and therefore federal employees within the Department of Defense. It is unknown how the court’s ruling will apply to military chaplains. When asked in a June 26 press conference how changes will be implemented, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin Dempsey explained that the department will “assess what that means.”
Responding to the situation, Archbishop Broglio voiced hope in the Constitution’s protections of “free exercise of religion” which “ensure that no restrictions or limitations on the teaching of the Catholic faith will be placed on any Catholic priest or deacon in the armed forces.”
He further said that he is “confident that people of this great country, no matter the consequences, will continue to promote and defend the good and the truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife for life.”
“Marriage remains what it has always been, regardless of what any government might say,” he stressed.