It is easy to draw parallels from the constitutional right to an abortion, and the nearly constitutional right to marry someone of one’s sex. These “rights” are not explicitly stated in the Constitution, but clever judges have been able to find that the rights were hiding behind the existing language, just waiting to be discovered after more than two centuries of hide-and-seek.
In the years following the Roe vs. Wade decision, the pro-life crowd did not surrender. They prayed at clinics; they lobbied for legislation; they gathered and marched; they shared their stories. Because of the indefatigable efforts of the pro-life ground troops, abortion is still a lively political issue, and nowhere near being universally accepted and acclaimed.
Gay marriage’s success so far stems from being framed as a civil rights issue. It is difficult for most Americans to disagree with anything that could be considered a “civil right.” And, the Supreme Court will probably come up with some gobbley-gook that sounds civil-righty, looks pretty good on paper, and gay marriage will be the law of the land.
For gay marriage opponents (or rather, natural law supporters), then what? What are the options?
Will people pray outside of gay weddings? Unlikely, and too Westboro Baptist Church. Will people agitate to change state law? For abortion, the allowable age where a fetus could meet its maker is fluid, and where laws can be reasonably made. Where is something similar for gay marriage? One can’t promote a state law stating that parties need to be a couple for nine months before marriage? Ridiculous. The tools used by the pro-life flank seem blunt and useless against the man-created edifice of gay marriage.
The only avenue where there could be some influence is with the church. The First Amendment says right out in the open—and first—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” However, given the primacy of the religion in the Constitution, this is no guarantee that religion will be protected. Hey, amendments are there to be changed, and at least one presidential candidate has said as much.
There are four potential choices that a church has: go along with gay marriage; go along with it with limits; don’t go along with it and be fined; don’t go along it and go underground.
Some church bodies, the like Episcopalians and the Presbyterians have already thrown in the towel, and are on board with gay marriage. Their congregations are already shrinking, and so what does it matter if they lose a few bigots—especially if they can attract faithful gay couples. For them, it’s a net win.
Or, a church can consider gay marriage the way the Catholic Church considers a mixed-faith marriage. Yes, the couple can be married, but on a side altar or maybe in the rectory in a modest ceremony—no over-the-top displays, no huge guest lists. Some may complain that this discriminatory, but churches usually reserve the right to be discriminatory. And so far, it’s worked out.
Maybe the law will be written so a church is allowed to say “no” to a same-sex ceremony, but for every refusal, they have to pay a fine or lose their tax-exempt status. Similar fines are forcing florists and cake-bakers into the poor house. It is too early to tell if this will be an option extended to churches, but putting a price on the free exercise of religion may be a solution that many would be comfortable with, even if the meaning of “free” is corrupted in the process.
The last choice churches have is to show the world that they are beat: sell off the property and close their doors. They can go underground and fan the flame of faith. Certainly they will have no standing with the government, and they will have to practice in the shadows.
Robert Reno and others have suggested that perhaps churches should just get out of the marriage business and leave it to the state. Capitulation is sorely tempting, but those who give in rarely win.
After gay marriage, then what?
Editor’s note That last question was a challenge. What do you think the consequences will be?