ANALYSIS: Marriage and Religious Freedom: Consequences of Recognizing Same-Sex Couples

“The consent-based view of marriage now enshrined in law teaches that marriage is more about the desires of adults than about the needs – or rights – of children”

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One of the big events of 2015 was the decision by the United States Supreme Court in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that upheld the decision to allow same-sex marriage.

The decision’s consequences were examined in the recent book “Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom,” by Ryan T. Anderson.

The Supreme Court’s decision has brought the sexual revolution to its apex, Anderson commented in his introduction. Anderson, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, also accused the court of usurping the authority of the people by sidelining the democratic process in the debate over same-sex marriage.

He also pointed out that defining the essence of marriage as being a male-female union has become a very unwelcome truth and is increasingly considered to be an irrational position. If unchecked this tendency “will pose the most serious threat to the rights of conscience and religious freedom in American history,” Anderson warned.

Arguing for same-sex marriage using the slogan of marriage equality is wonderful advertising, Anderson observed, but “it’s completely vacuous. It doesn’t say a thing about what marriage is.”

He went on to explain that equality before the law is meant to protect people from arbitrary distinctions, to protect them from laws that treat them differently for no good reason.

Nature of the good

“To know whether the law makes the right distinctions – whether the lines it draws are justified – one has to know the public purpose of the law and the nature of the good it advances or protects.”

A consent-based view of marriage, based on a romantic union of consenting adults, sees marriage as only a difference in degree from other relationships. Instead, Anderson argued, marriage should be considered as different in kind from alternative forms of relationships.

After going into some of the philosophical reasons as to why marriage between a man and a woman is different Anderson then raised the question as to why the state is involved in marriage.

Just about every political community has regulated male-female relationships. This is because they are unique in that they are the way in which a new generation is born. Thus, marriage benefits society in a way in which no other form of relationship does.

Moreover, numerous studies show that children benefit from being raised in an environment with a father and a mother and therefore the state has a valid interest in promoting the flourishing of strong stable marriages between the biological parents.

If the state defines marriage as the union of a husband and wife it does not violate anyone’s liberty, Anderson continued. Adults still remain free concerning the types of relationships they wish to enter into, but the state protects and promotes marriage as the ideal institution for childbearing and childraising.

Redefining marriage as a genderless institution sends a signal that men and women are interchangeable, but this is simply not true, Anderson argued.

“The consent-based view of marriage now enshrined in law teaches that marriage is more about the desires of adults than about the needs – or rights – of children,” he explained. And changing the law sends a message that affects society, as happened with the introduction of no-fault divorce.


Anderson also examined the argument that opposition to same-sex marriage is similar to opposition to interracial marriage. If this affirmation is accepted then the next step is to say the government should treat opposition to same-sex marriage just as it would in the case of interracial marriage.

This, however, should not happen, Anderson argued, as the state has no compelling interest in forcing every citizen to treat a same-sex relationship as a marriage, thus violating their religious or moral convictions.

The assumption that marriage is the union of a man and a woman was almost universal until only a very short time ago and same-sex marriage “is the work of revisionism in historical reasoning about marriage,” he commented.

Racial segregation laws denied the fundamental equality and dignity of all human beings and the race of the spouses has nothing to do with the nature of marriage. That is far from being the case with same-sex marriage.

A couple of the book’s chapters looked at the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision for religious freedom. Anderson presented a series of cases involving private businesses, institutions and charitable organizations that were penalized for not supporting same-sex marriage.

Making decisions on moral and religious grounds may well entail adverse consequences in the marketplace, Anderson pointed out, but governments should not constrain basic freedoms unless there is a compelling reason or the common good requires it.

Moreover, he argued that religious freedom is more than just tolerance, it is a fundamental natural right.

“Religious liberty is important because the search for truth about ultimate things and the effort to live according to that truth are valuable only if they are freely undertaken,” said Anderson.

There are, he explained, men, women, and institutions, who conclude that in good conscience they cannot support same-sex marriage, whether through the sale of goods such as flowers and cakes, or in the case of services provided by charities, schools and other groups.

They should not be forced by the government to choose between their livelihood and their religious beliefs, he insisted. One thing is certain — that the divisions caused by same-sex marriage will continue to be a cause of contention in the coming year.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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