Why the DOMA decision is a win for religious liberty

No doubt you’ve heard by now that the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on Wednesday on the basis that it is “a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is  protected by the Fifth Amendment.” (Read the entire decision here)

This is a win for marriage equality and for equal rights, and it is a huge blow to those who want to see discrimination continue. The ruling says that those who have same-sex marriages recognized by their state must also be federally recognized. This means that (some) same-sex couples can now get the benefits that opposite-sex couples have and take for granted every day ranging from tax and health care benefits to parental and immigration benefits. It was a big day.

But not everyone is happy about it. I suspect many of you are less than thrilled with the decision today and, like Albert Mohler  see this as an indication that national marriage equality is inevitable. Or maybe, like Mike Huckabee, you think you’re Jesus’ spokesman on this issue:

My thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay: “Jesus wept.”

Today, though, I chose to wear my Baptist Joint Committee t-shirt:

BJC Shirt

But why? Because I also see today as a victory for religious liberty. Religious liberty for all means freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. This means that you are not required to subscribe to anyone else’s religious views and you also are not allowed to force your religious views on anyone else. On Wednesday one more law that was the result of legislating doctrine was struck down. The fear is rampant among many conservative Christians that I follow that pastors will be “dragged out of the pulpit” or will be forced to perform same-sex marriages or will lose their tax exempt status for refusing to do so or that the Bible will soon be outlawed as “hate speech.”

These reactions fail to understand one of the things that truly does make this country great: real religious freedom. It is a freedom that baptists have long championed and one that we still strive for today. President Obama made this clear in his statement after DOMA was overturned:

On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.

Yes, I am a Christian and a proponent of marriage equality. But I promise that I will fight just as hard for your religious freedom as I will for my own, because my firm conviction on religious liberty does not allow me to think that my religious freedom is any more important than anyone else’s. As long as anyone lacks real religious freedom, we all lack real religious freedom.

Thomas Whitley

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Thomas Whitley holds a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Divinity from Gardner-Webb University. He is currently working on a PhD in Religions of Western Antiquity at Florida State University. He regularly writes on religion, technology, and politics at thomaswhitley.com.

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  • raytheist

    I think you are the first Baptist I’ve read to hold such a view. Thank you, very much.

    • remliw

      There use to be many Baptists with just this view.

  • Roxane Murray

    Thank you so much! If all Christians held the view that freedom of religion does not mean the right to force their beliefs on other people, my blood pressure would be a lot lower.

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  • JP

    Romans 6:1-2 “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

    Maybe DOMA should’ve never been passed as a law. In fact, I don’t think government has any right to regulate marriage in any way at all. They should not give special benefits to those who marry specifically because it gives them the power to say what constitutes marriage. But since the government is so intertwined with our daily lives from public school to taxes, we should still try to prevent the crazier sins from becoming normal such as homosexuality, incest, polygamy, etc.

    Marriage has always been a contract between a man and a woman before God, a religious matter that should be regulated by each religion. If Islam or Buddhism or whatever will grant same-sex marriages, that’s up to them. But Christians should never ever ever support or celebrate sin. And that is what homosexual marriage is all about, doing what you want the way you want it without regard to what God has to say about it.

    For Christians, and especially Baptists, to see the allowance of homosexual marriage as a good thing and its normalization as opposed to fighting it as aberrant behavior is frightening to me.

  • Gus Nelson

    Thomas: Religious liberty in a republic such as ours also means that those who hold strong religious convictions and wish to participate in the process have a voice in making policy. DOMA passed by veto proof majorities (342/67 in the House, 85/14 in the Senate) which is why President Clinton signed it. If I understand your view correctly, somehow its wrong for people, even under our system of government, to propose a new law, elect congressional representatives who support that law, then get it passed, all through the appropriate channels if that law somehow represents their strongly held religious convictions. My ultimate difficulty is I do not see how you possibly can draw a reasonable line about what is and what isn’t a proper “religious” conviction such that it should support a law. For instance, I’m opposed to murder on religious grounds, which is against the law in all 50 states. I’m also opposed to adultery on religious grounds, but in most states it either isn’t against the law or, more likely, it is actually against the law but the laws simply aren’t enforced. Would I then be wrong to get lawmakers in my state to pass a law outlawing adultery or making enforcement of existing law more clear and more frequent? Would I be wrong just because it’s my strongly held religious conviction? That’s an awfully subjective methodology for determining whether a law should or should not be passed. It’s also a violation of my religious liberty to seek redress through proper channels. Your sword cuts both ways here.