When Marriage Needs a Lawyer

Alliance Defense Fund Ready for Global Battles

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By Edward Pentin

ROME, JUNE 16, 2011 (Zenit.org).- A Christian professor in North Carolina denied promotion because of his beliefs; a nurse forced against her conscience to participate in an abortion in New York; public school students in Pennsylvania prohibited from distributing fliers promoting Church events.

Just some of the clients successfully defended by the Alliance Defense Fund — a dynamic group of Christian lawyers and like-minded organizations who stand up for a person’s right to freely live out their faith.

Founded in 1993, the organization is dedicated to defending religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage and the family. And although its principal focus is the United States, the nature of modern society and globalization has meant it now has a broader reach. “This is very exciting to me,” said its current president, Alan Sears, on a recent visit to Rome. “It’s impossible to confine our work to the U.S. as everything is international now.”

One particular area of concern, he noted, is an increasing push to make so-called rights to abortion, same-sex “marriage” and other such policies, conditions for aid to developing countries. “I think you’re going to see some very strong stands being taken on this, and we find ourselves in the midst of it,” Sears said. “But that’s the call of God — when you begin working in these fights, you have to go where God leads you.” So far, the organization has shared its expertise to help win battles in the European Parliament, the U.N. and other international agencies. 

But back in the U.S., the Alliance’s work has proved especially effective, not least when it comes to defending traditional marriage. Out of litigating some 50 cases on marriage over the past 18 years, Sears said the Alliance had won 45 of them and lost five, with the “big one” pending in California. But he warned that although 31 states have voted to protect marriage, there’s growing pressure to undo those votes. “First it’s the silencing and then the punishment of everyone who disagrees,” he said. “That’s at the heart of the agenda.” 

Sears’s concern over the future of marriage dates back to a disturbing conference he attended in the mid 1990s in London, where one of the speakers was the first lesbian judge appointed to a U.S. federal court. “They openly discussed at the conference that same-sex ‘marriage’ was just the first step toward the abolition of marriage, and so I began to send people to more of these events, and then we began to work on these cases,” Sears recalled.

He is now all too familiar with the often highly successful tactics used by the homosexual lobby to win support in the public square. “The first step is that they want recognition,” Sears explained. “If they don’t get recognition, they demonstrate. Once they get recognition, the second step is always to ask for benefits. For example, if an employer provides benefits for married couples, if they are provided to a heterosexual family, then they say: ‘they should pay it to us.'” 

The next step, he said, is “special assistance” — money from public and private employers to lobby or fund a group. Then comes the final push for an anti-discrimination policy. “If it’s government, it’s about changing the law; if a private company, it’s about changing a policy,” Sears explained. “The campaigners call for ‘no discrimination’ but what does that really mean? It means ‘Shut up and go away.'” He added that this is an area the Alliance is confronting in a lot of cases, and they primarily revolve around rights of conscience. 

As an example, he gave details of a case in New Mexico where a young, evangelical Christian photographer politely refused to photograph a lesbian ceremony. The couple filed a complaint to New Mexico’s Human Rights Commission who brought an action against the photographer, ordering her to pay $7,000 in compensation to the lesbian couple. “Don’t all artists have a basic right to choose what they create with their art? Isn’t this considered a basic right?” Sears asked. “Artists can create what they want, or not?” 

That case is still pending, but the Alliance won a similar case in New Jersey. Methodists refused to hire out their center of worship to a lesbian couple for a ceremony, leading the couple to take legal action against them. New Jersey authorities sided with the couple and revoked the Methodists’ tax exemption status. “That was devastating,” Sears recalled. “We won that case and the tax exemption was put back.”   

Another area where the Alliance is active is on college campuses where the same-sex agenda and anti-Christian discrimination has become increasingly common. One recent case the organization won was in Wisconsin where a 100-year old Roman Catholic foundation was denied funding because they required their leaders to be Catholics. “How could a Roman Catholic foundation be led by Buddhists or atheists?” asked Sears incredulously. “It took several years in court, but we won and it was a very successful case. The university had to pay quite a bit of money to the foundation as a result.” 

Also of concern to the Alliance are rules in colleges regarding language and speech codes. “Now you cannot do anything to make someone who engages in homosexual behavior feel bad about themselves,” Sears said, adding that universities have unilaterally enforced these rules but they aren’t laws. “They don’t have authority to do this, they just do it, and no one has challenged them for years,” Sears said. “So we’ve begun to challenge them. We’ve sued some 80 American public colleges and universities, won 60 or so cases and so far lost one. There are some pending, and we’ll have a lot more.” 

Sears’s organization also extends to defending home schooling in Germany, France and Sweden, but it’s the protection of marriage that has focused most of their attention. 

The American jurist, however, takes solace in the Church and in particular the clarity of its teaching. “One of the wonderful things about the Catholic Church is that the Catechism is so clear about these issues,” he said, adding that on same-sex matters the Church “tells us this behavior is always disordered and can never be approved under any circumstances.” 

Yet he also praises the humanity of her teaching. “We are required to treat all people caught up and engaged in it with dignity and respect as they are our brothers and sisters, created in the image and likeness of God,” Sears said. “This gives us great clarity which many of our allies who don’t share our faith, and many secularists, don’t understand because they fall into the trap of treating people without respect and, for lack of a better term, by attacking their dignity.” 

As Catholics, he said, “we’re all natural law advocates, we all understand that all true rights come from God, that rights of the state are secondary, and that the state is supposed to protect those natural God given rights.” But now, he believes, society is approaching it “completely backwards with positive law, to say that everything is now contradictory to the natural law.” 

Marriage, he stressed, was the first institution in the history of the world, going back to Genesis. “This preceded all governments, all human institutions,” he said. But he warned that the same-sex agenda and the ultimate destruction of this most precious of institutions “will be enforced if no one resists.”

Sears was speaking to members and friends of the Centro Culturale Lepanto, a politically independent Italian association that works to defend Christian principles and institutions.

More details on the Alliance Defense Fund, including its training program for Christian lawyers, can be found here: http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/.

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Edward Pentin is a freelance writer living in Rome. He can be reached at: epentin@zenit.org

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