Bill to exempt churches from gay marriage only feeds fears
Will the drive for gay marriage overtake religious rights? No, and some American churches are pushing gay people and all those who support equal rights for same-sex couples further away by insisting it will.
There is momentum for American society to fully embrace same-sex marriage, led by the U.S. Supreme Court's dual decisions in June that effectively struck down both California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. And the Internal Revenue Service followed up this month by allowing married gay couples to file jointly, even if they live in states that do not recognize gay marriage.
For church leaders who have fought these marriage battles and lost, they are starting to think it won't be long before the courts bring gay couples to their doors with demands for marriage.
That's the thought driving Idaho Rep. RaÃºl Labrador to sponsor a bill intended to prevent the IRS from denying tax-exempt status to a church that will not permit gay marriages. Labrador's bill has 62 co-sponsors, including two Democrats and all three of Utah's GOP representatives.
Labrador and the Utahns are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the thinking is similar to the LDS Church's position on Hawaii's same-sex marriage proposal. In Hawaii, church leaders told members the church should be kept "from being required to support or perform same-sex marriages or from having to host same-sex marriages or celebrations in their facilities."
But this effort is not driven solely by LDS interests. U.S. Roman Catholic leaders are cheering Labrador's bill, as is the Southern Baptist Convention.
They are letting fear rule them. Same-sex marriage does not hurt religious freedom, and nothing in those Supreme Court cases or in the Hawaii proposal requires churches to change their beliefs. Labrador pointed to a California bill to remove the Boy Scouts' tax-exempt status for its position barring gay adults from leadership positions. But that is apples and oranges. Despite the religious devotion of many scouts, the Boy Scouts are not a religion.
We in the press are familiar with religion's position. We also enjoy First Amendment protections, and we fight hard to protect them. The nation has been well served in giving both the press and churches the freedom to do what they think is right without government intervention.
Churches' existing rights already trump the demands of social conformity. Religions opposed to same-sex marriage will continue to feel pressure, both from outside and inside their congregations, but it won't be the government forcing it on them.
Religion already has the Bill of Rights. Labrador is not going to do better.