February 07, 2012

Marriage: The other religious liberty issue

By Rebecca Ryskind Teti *

Legislatures in Washington, New Jersey and Maryland are now considering whether to redefine what marriage is.

The Washington Senate has already done so and the bill is expected to pass easily through the state House. Same-sex marriage may pass in New Jersey this Spring, though it’s not clear there would be sufficient votes to override Gov. Christie’s promised veto.

In my home state of Maryland, where such a measure was blocked by public outcry last year, an undaunted Maryland Assembly is debating it again this month.

The Maryland Catholic Conference is working tirelessly with the interfaith Maryland Marriage Alliance to defeat the measure, but at the parish level, opposition to the HHS Conscience Crusher mandate is sucking oxygen from attention to the defense of marriage.

The two issues are related in that each is designed to turn Catholics and other religious believers into second class citizens.

The HHS contraceptive mandate holds that religious institutions can do as they wish so long as they keep to themselves. If they wish to serve those outside their own creed, they must either crush their consciences by paying for contraceptives --including abortifacients-- or pay stiff fines.

This amounts to a tax on being Catholic: making us pay extra for the “privilege” of living as free citizens.

Same-sex marriage, if accepted, will have a similar outcome.

“Equality” as it is enshrined in our Declaration is a limitation on government. The principle that all men are created equal prevents the state from making irrelevant distinctions among citizens.

But the difference between a man and a woman is not an irrelevant distinction: it matters, above all to children.

Same-sex marriage doesn’t create two parallel tracks in the law: one for heterosexuals and one for homosexuals, with each living as they choose. What it does is make everyone genderless before the law, turning the law into a cudgel for beating down any legal recognition of plain biology.

It becomes “hateful” in the eyes of the state to hold – as biology, common sense, history and the latest social science unite to make clear- that a man brings something different to parenthood than a woman does, and children are best served by having both a mother and a father.

There is no benefit same-sex couples will gain from the redefinition of marriage that they don’t have now.

In Maryland, for example, the law already protects same-sex couples through a domestic partnership law, and same-sex partners have all the same benefits as married couples. This includes the right to hospital visitation, health insurance benefits –even the ability to adopt children.

If same-sex marriage passes, however, Catholics and other citizens stand to lose a great deal.

Catholic Charities have already been forced to close their adoption services in Boston, Illinois and Washington, D.C.

Wedding professionals and marriage counselors have already been sued – and lost!—in some states for the refusal to recognize same-sex marriages.

The high court in Great Britain recently ruled that belief in traditional marriage is a danger to children, and blocked those who believe it from being foster parents.

Wherever same-sex marriage goes, religious believers lose their rights to teach their faith and act on it; parents lose the right to educate their children; and individuals lose their right to free speech, becoming targets of censorship and harassment lawsuits for refusing to bend to the power of the state.

The HHS mandate –and the censorship last week of Army chaplains asked to preach about it-- are indications of exactly how “respectful” government is likely to be if we allow same-sex marriage to be the law of the land.

Religious liberty, free speech, freedom of the press and assembly are linked and must be protected together.  If government undermines any one of them, the others are also threatened. 

This is why the assault now being carried out against the religious liberty of the Catholic Church is not just a "Catholic" issue. It’s not only about whether the Church is right about contraception or marriage, but about a broad expansion of government into spheres of life our forebears fought a revolution to keep free for private action. 

A government that can't tolerate the diverse practices and beliefs of different religious institutions today is very unlikely to tolerate the diverse views of newspapers and TV broadcasters, or the dissenting views of students and teachers at public and private colleges.

Marriage is worth defending in its own right. It is also a front in the argument we are having with ourselves over whether we still believe in the rights in the Declaration and Bill of Rights.

Rebecca Ryskind Teti is Operations Coordinator for the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship at the Busch School of Business & Economics at CUA, though the opinions are her own. This column is modified from an earlier version that first appeared in Faith & Family  magazine.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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