The conflict between same-sex marriage and religious liberty

In a recent Deseret News article describing the growing list of conflicts between religious liberty and attempts to redefine marriage, a prominent advocate of same-sex marriage is quoted regarding this trend. Here is the paragraph:

“It’s a right-wing talking point to stoke up fears for something that’s not a problem,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a group dedicated to promoting same-sex marriage. “There’s only one or two isolated examples (of clashing) as to how this has even been an issue. We settled this question in the country decades ago when businesses were saying ‘We don’t want to serve blacks or Jews, Latinos, Mormons,’ and (the country) said ‘No, when you’re a business opening your doors to the public, you have to serve everyone. That’s (called) nondiscrimination in a democratic society.'”

This is a very revealing passage, notwithstanding the obfuscation in the answer Mr. Wolfson provides. The basic argument is that there really is no conflict between religious liberty and same-sex marriage worthy of notice since the conflict is “something that’s not a problem.” Why is it not a problem? At first, it appears that Mr. Wolfson would say it’s numerically insignificant: “There’s only one or two isolated examples as to how this has even been an issue.” 

Now, one could certainly quarrel with this as an empirical matter since there are actually numerous examples of conflicts related to recognition of same-sex marriages or similar legal statuses (and there will likely be many more as I describe here), but this claim regarding the number of examples is really a distraction.

The lack of “problem” Mr. Wolfson sees is actually not that there won’t be many conflicts, but that the question of whether marriage redefinition will create duties that conflict with religious liberty is already “settled.” The relevant principle, to Mr. Wolfson, has nothing to do with protecting religious liberty but rather with “nondiscrimination in a democratic society.” He says this means if you open your doors to the public you have to serve everyone. So if you are a church group that allows a chapel to be used for weddings, that chapel will have to be used for same-sex-union ceremonies, or if you are a counseling student who wants to refer same-sex couples to another therapist you can be kicked out of your program (to take but two examples from last month; see here).

That may be consistent with some principle of “nondiscrimination,” but it conflicts with the liberty of churches, religiously focused organizations, and individuals of faith to act on their beliefs in the public square, a principle enshrined in the free exercise (not “freedom of private belief”) clause of the First Amendment.