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By JONATHAN D. RUBIN
c. 2008 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — California’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage could “spawn lawsuits all over the country,” trampling states’ rights and limiting religious freedom, a coalition of conservative groups warned Thursday (May 29).
The Washington-based Family Research Council issued that warning the same day it asked the California Supreme Court to stay its May 15 decision that allows gay and lesbian couples to tie the knot as soon as June 17.
On Wednesday, California officials unveiled new marriage licenses that replace the traditional “bride” and “groom” applicants with “Party A” and “Party B.”
In addition, New York Gov. David Patterson said his state will soon recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, including those sanctioned in California, Massachusetts and Canada.
Ken Blackwell, senior fellow at the Family Research Council and a former Ohio secretary of state, said allowing gay marriage in California would “elevate” legal protections for homosexuals across the board, and would make it difficult, if not impossible, for religious groups to uphold policies that reflect disapproval of homosexuality.
“They didn’t defuse a controversy … they created one,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm that’s aligned with the council.
The groups said they feared legalized gay marriage could result in some undesirable scenarios, starting in California with ripple effects from coast to coast:
— Because California lacks residential requirements for marriage, a flood of gay couples nationwide could travel to California and get married, then return to their home states and demand that those marriages be recognized.
— California houses of worship would be forced to conduct same-sex weddings or risk losing their tax-exempt status.
— Christian-based adoption agencies that refuse to place children with same-sex couples could lose their ability to operate.
— Public schools would be forced to teach the “fully equal status of homosexual and heterosexual conduct.”
But gay-rights advocates dismiss such scenarios as a “red herring,” noting that the California ruling says nothing about houses of worship, adoption or what is taught in public schools.
Lara Schwartz, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign, called it “the combination of a scare tactic and a desperate move.” Churches will no more be forced to conduct same-sex weddings than a Catholic Church will be forced to marry a bride or groom who’s already divorced, or a rabbi will be compelled to perform an interfaith wedding.
On the potential for a faith-based institution to lose its tax-exempt status, Schwartz said “the legal issue that they brought up isn’t related to marriage rights, it’s discrimination rights.”
The conservative coalition is asking for a 180-day stay in the court’s ruling, in part to allow them to rally support for a proposed state constitutional amendment in November that would ban gay marriage.
A Field Poll released Wednesday found that slightly more than half of Californians surveyed favored legalizing gay marriage, a 7-point increase since 2006. The Family Research Council disputed those results, arguing that people who oppose gay marriage “underpoll” out of fear of being labeled bigots.
Conservatives said the court’s decision that overruled a 2000 voter referendum that defined marriage as between a man and a woman could ultimately lead to the repeal of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which said states are not compelled to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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