Marriage and the religious future

Written by Peter Smith on .


"For years, many states had a tradition of segregation and even articulated reasons why it created a better, more stable society. Similarly, many states deprived women of their equal rights under the law, believing this to properly preserve our traditions. In time, even the most strident supporters of these views understood that they could not enforce their particular moral views to the detriment of another’s constitutional rights. Here as well, sometime in the not too distant future, the same understanding will come to pass."

 Judge John G. Heyburn II, U.S. District Court for Western Kentucky, Feb. 12, 2014

In his decision nullifying part of Kentucky's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, one can only wonder if Judge Heyburn was measuring the "not too distant future" in a matter of hours rather than generations. The legal cases may keep coming for a few years, but it's clear we've passed the tipping point, and the trend toward legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide seems inevitable.

In fact, the decisive turn in this front of the culture war has occurred so quickly that another social milestone -- legalized medical marijuana -- is already upon us, and appears to have passed its own tipping point.

And whereas opponents once could blame such trends on activist judges and the like -- and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is certainly the human tipping point in the gay-marriage debate -- it's clear that the tide of public opinion is turning.

To wit: In 2009, a majority of Pennsylvanians said same-sex marriage should not be recognized. By 2011, a majority said it should. More to the point, more people in every age group under 65 support rather than oppose gay marriage recognition, with those under 35 agreeing by more than a 2-1 margin, according to a survey by the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

And the Franklin & Marshall College found a similar reversal.

And these trends are being felt deep in the Heartland, including my old Kentucky stomping ground.

When that state passed its constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004, the Bluegrass Poll showed support for the ban across all regions and age groups, in both major political parties and most religious categories.

But earlier this year, while a majority of state residents remained opposed, the latest Bluegrass Poll showed young adults in Kentucky polling 47 to 33 percent in favor of gay marriage. Only a minority of Democrats are opposed, and Kentucky's most urban region is evenly split. Similar demographics were the most supportive of legalized medical marijuana.

Such overhauls prompted a veteran Kentucky political observer to predict trouble among younger generations for Republicans in a state they have largely dominated in recent national elections. 

That's an issue for religious groups, too. Some will stick to their traditional opposition to same-sex marriage on principle, some will support it on principle, some may do one or the other for pragmatic reasons of appealing to one constituency or another. 

In fact, many religious opponents to same-sex marriage have switched to a rear-guard strategy of seeking protections for religious groups and vendors who don't want to participate in such weddings.

The fact is that the young are both less religious and more liberal on gay marriage. It's hard to know which came first, the secularism or the tolerance, but they clearly trend together. 


More from Judge Heyburn on the dramatic cultural shift behind all this:

"Many Kentuckians believe in 'traditional marriage.' Many believe what their ministers and scriptures tell them: that a marriage is a sacrament instituted between God and a man and a woman for society’s benefit. They may be confused—even angry—when a decision such as this one seems to call into question that view. These concerns are understandable and deserve an answer. Our religious beliefs and societal traditions are vital to the fabric of society. Though each faith, minister, and individual can define marriage for themselves, at issue here are laws that act outside that protected sphere. Once the government defines marriage and attaches benefits to that definition, it must do so constitutionally. It cannot impose a traditional or faith-based limitation upon a public right without a sufficient justification for it. Assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law, does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons.

"The beauty of our Constitution is that it accommodates our individual faith’s definition of marriage while preventing the government from unlawfully treating us differently. This is hardly surprising since it was written by people who came to America to find both freedom of religion and freedom from it...

"...No court can require churches or other religious institutions to marry same-sex couples or any other couple, for that matter. This is part of our constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. ... What this opinion does, however, is make real the promise of equal protection under the law."


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