Debate Primer: Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom

Our opponents’ most prominent line of attack these days is that same-sex marriage is a threat to religious liberty. Here’s a primer suggesting ways to debate them. You can download it here and store it on your tablet or phone for quick reference.

Essential Points

Here are single-sentence points that you can get out in one breath (maybe two). The idea is create a flow:  Shift their objection from same-sex marriage to discrimination; point out their inconsistency on the issue, and question the integrity of their sources (e.g, National Organization for Marriage and its allies).

  1. NOM’s alleged violations of religious liberty are usually about discrimination law, not same-sex marriage – in fact, many of their favorite examples come from states that haven’t legalized same-sex marriage.
  1. The American people may be evenly divided on same-sex marriage, but they strongly oppose discrimination, as shown by poll after poll.
  1. The same anti-discrimination laws that protect gays and lesbians also protect Christians and other religious people – in fact, religious people have more protection against discrimination than gays and lesbians.
  1. Discrimination laws have existed a long time but our opponents never complained about the threat to religious liberty until gays came into the picture, making one wonder: is it really about religious freedom, or is it about the gays?
  1. People who want to be exempted from discrimination law are really asking for special rights.
  1. NOM has lied to its own supporters about the threat to religious freedom in order to get money from them.

Getting back on track

You’re unlikely to be able control the flow of the conversation, so here are some questions you can ask when things go awry, especially when they start citing examples of religious liberty violations:

  • Where did you get your information? Here’s my phone – can we look it up?
  • Is this from the U.S.? We have the First Amendment here, and that makes us different from other countries.
  • Was same-sex marriage even legal where this happened? If not, how can it be about same-sex marriage?
  • Is this about same-sex marriage or discrimination law?
  • Does your example involve taxpayer money? Groups that get taxpayer money shouldn’t discriminate against law-abiding taxpayers.
  • Do you think it’s wrong to make Catholic employers recognize the marriages of their employees who have divorced and remarried? If so, why haven’t you been crusading about that before? If not, then how can you claim this is about the principle of religious liberty?
  • If you (mistakenly) think pastors can be jailed for criticizing gays, then why haven’t gays been jailed for criticizing anti-gay pastors? The laws that protect gays are the exact same laws that protect religion. In fact, religion is more strongly protected in many places than sexual orientation, never the other way around.
  • Were your “martyrs” punished just for being anti-gay, or did they violate other laws (trespassing, vandalism, incitement to violence, etc.)?


Now here are a few of our opponents’ favorite examples of the threat to religious liberty, the ones you’re most likely to hear, each of them debunked according to the points above. The most potent bullets are in bold.

Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association

A favorite examples is Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a New Jersey ministry that lost a property tax exemption on an outdoor pavilion after they didn’t let a lesbian couple use it for a commitment ceremony. HIT THEM HARD IF THEY BRING THIS UP! It usually takes the form, “a Methodist organization lost its tax-exempt status for refusing to allow lesbian couples to have civil-union ceremonies at a public seaside pavilion owned by the group,” (from the Wall Street Journal).

  • This is about discrimination law, not same-sex marriage (which wasn’t legal in New Jersey)
  • The group didn’t lose its tax exempt status. It lost its property tax exemption on one beachfront structure.
  • The lost property tax exemption was not based on religious grounds, but on a special program for non-profit corporations that made facilities available to the public on an equal basis.
  • When Ocean Grove violated this agreement, they lost the exemption on that pavilion. But they later applied for a religious tax exemption on the pavilion and they got it!
  • This case actually demonstrates how religious freedom is protected, not how it’s threatened. How can we take this threat seriously if your best examples disprove your point?
  • Or, in talking point format: This only happened because they applied for the wrong kind of tax exemption, one that required their property to be open to everyone. Once they applied on religious grounds, they got their exemption back and now they can discriminate to their hearts’ content.

Town Clerks in New York state
Some Town Clerks in New York resigned rather than sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and the demand that they sign such documents is a violation of religious freedom. This example really chaps my hide, far more than the others.

  • Talking point:  You’ve got government employees demanding you pass their personal religious test before they’ll help you. That’s not religious freedom. In fact, it’s the opposite.
  • More technically, when a Town Clerk signs a marriage license, she’s not personally endorsing the couple’s relationship – she’s merely attesting to the accuracy of the information in the document. Refusing to sign the license means she is lying about what’s written in the document.
  • And all those promises that they’ll refer the same-sex couple to another Town Clerk who’s willing to do their job? What hypocrisy. “I couldn’t possibly do this terrible thing myself, but don’t worry, I’ll do my best to make sure it happens anyway.”
  • Does a Town Clerk’s religious freedom include the right to deny a marriage license to a divorced Catholic who is remarrying?  If so, is it really freedom to give government officials so much control over your life? And if not, then this isn’t really about the freedom of the clerks after all – it’s all about the gays.

That New Mexico photographer

A New Mexico photographer was fined by the state’s human rights commission after he refused to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.

  • This is about discrimination law, not same-sex marriage (which isn’t legal in New Mexico)
  • If you think this is wrong (and even some gay activists do), then your problem is with discrimination law, not same-sex marriage.
  • Imagine a gay photographer who didn’t want to photograph an opposite-sex wedding in a church that vigorously fought against marriage equality. He would be fined for religious discrimination under that same law!
  • Is NOM opposed to that as well? If so, then the issue is discrimination law, not same-sex marriage. If not, then…what hypocrites! So much for all their talk about liberty. Sounds like it’s all about the gays.

(By the way, I bolded that point above because you can adapt it to disarm almost any claimed threat to liberty stemming from discrimination law.)

Catholic Charities of Boston (and elsewhere)

Catholic Charities of Boston shut down its adoption services in Massachusetts when same-marriage became law because the state did not allow them to discriminate against legally-married couples just because they’re same-sex couples. This is trickier, because it does involve same-sex marriage.

  • Be careful: Some folk claim that Catholic Charities should got no religious exemption because it takes tons of money from the government in exchange for its services. But while it’s true they get government money, they wouldn’t be allowed to discriminate even if they turned that money down.
  • If you do want to mention the government money thing, here’s a nice phrasing:  People who get taxpayer money shouldn’t discriminate against law-abiding taxpayers.
  • I’d go with “Why is this only an issue when it comes to gays?”
  • Catholic Charities couldn’t discriminate against parents based on religion (as the LDS church discovered in Massachusetts). Isn’t this a violation of religious freedom?
  • NOM’s Maggie Gallagher once wrote, “The only to the Father is through the Son.” So shouldn’t she be fighting tooth and nail for Catholic Charities right to discriminate against Jews? I mean, it’s all about the welfare of the child, right?
  • The state has required the Church to recognize all sorts of marriages that violate doctrine, for years and years, without public outcry.
  • For instance, the Church recognizes two Baptists married by a Baptist minister as validly married, but not a Catholic and a Baptist married by that same minister. Yet state law forbids discrimination on those grounds.
  • So is it really about religious liberty, or just about the gays?

Naval chaplains

Here’s an example of fraud and deceit. NOM send out a fundraising appeal: “Last April, the Navy issued new ‘sensitivity training’ guidelines that required Navy chaplains to perform same-sex marriages. Thanks to leadership from Congressmen Tim Huelskamp and Todd Akin, the Navy backed down and rescinded the guidelines.”

  • Total bull. If you need more assurance than that, here’s a reference  with links to the relevant documents.
  • NOM has this on their blog, but the email version of this deception had multiple “DONATE” buttons embedded in it.
  • NOM is lying to its supporters to get money.
  • If NOM’s  best examples of threats to religious freedom are so wrong, then why should we take them seriously?
  • Finally, why is NOM soliciting money under false pretenses?
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8 comments to Debate Primer: Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom

  • 1
    John Kusters says:

    Bravo! Great deconstruction and logic. Too bad logic seems to deflect off so many anti-gay activists’ shields. :-)

  • 2
    Deeelaaach says:

    I’ve had these same conversations with seemingly rational and supportive folks, and I keep coming up with the same sort of objections:  “But that didn’t happen in this case!,” (even if it did)!  They see apples to oranges when it’s really apples to apples or oranges to oranges.  Give them an example of what could happen and that’s the sort of reaction you get.  I’ve had to deconstruct their arguments to show that it’s apples to apples and they can’t see it because their emotions get in the way of their heads and they react with emotion rather than their heads.  

    I’ve been able to show them it’s apples to apples and they can only dimly see it if they look hard enough, but it hurts to look hard enough because it destroys their impressions and their logic, and they can’t handle that so they don’t handle it and they keep saying it’s not the same even when somewhere deep down they know I’m right.  You could have God himself come down and tell them they’re wrong and they wouldn’t believe Him either!
    It wouldn’t matter if you gave them concrete examples of times it did happen, the refrain is still the same – but that didn’t happen – *this time!*  You would think that they are talking to T’Lar asking for fal-tor-pan in this case:  My logic is uncertain where my church is concerned.”

  • 3
    Deeelaaach says:

    PS, thanks for the primer Rob, I’ll use it to brush up on my facts!

  • 4
    David from SC says:

    Rob, there’s an additional line of reasoning that seems persuasive to me.
    Let’s suppose someone argues that same-sex marriage violates his religious freedom and should be banned. Other churches than his, however, are theologically supportive of same-sex marriages. The opponent, therefore, is proposing to take religious freedom away from those supportive churches. He is demanding that the government support his religion’s particular viewpoint to the exclusion of others. So the “anti-” position is not really one of religious freedom, but of suppression of others’ religious freedom.
    It all depends on whose (religious) ox is being gored, eh?

  • 5
    Scott Rose says:

    My point of view is that the Catholic Church was complicit in demonizing WWII-era homosexuals and getting them deported to concentration camps.  Part of the phrase “Never again!” means having zero tolerance for Catholic-dogma-based demonization of gay human beings.  

  • 6
    Regan DuCasse says:

        Yes, those few cases of litigation or challenges to discrimination are well worn by the anti gay. They are very anecdotal cases, not TRENDS. The trend is how many people have been fired, suppressed or denied their jobs for either respecting equal standards, or doing something supportive of gay people. Clergy who performed ss ceremonies, were fired left and right for doing so.
       Hyperbole is the stock and trade of our dissenters. And the legal counsel that’s offered by the Alliance Defense Fund, or Liberty U are strictly cases that involve gay people and NO OTHERS.
      So their defense of Christians, and Christians only, typically isn’t needed except in cases where gays and lesbians are challenging discrimination.
    But the ADF spins is as a discriminatory issue against Christians.
    Even then, I’ve heard time and time again, complaints that gays keep going to court, keep protesting or finding ways to invade religious freedom in this way.
    Litigation is legal. Petitioning the gov’t to address grievances is legal. Yet, any legal actions taken by gay people are propagandized as if they are illegal terrorist plots and the entire conspiracy of gay people is to gain equal treatment at the EXPENSE of Christians or hets in general.

        The depths of hypocrisy is EXHAUSTING. The level of stupid we try to deal with is exhausting.
        There are times it seems like I’m talking to someone who is brain damaged and so unbelievably ill informed, paranoid or outrageous, they seem crazy.
    Unfortunately, they are encouraged to vote, and they can vote.
    And such brain damaged crazy people running the lives of anyone vulnerable to a popular vote is anathema to why we have a Constitution and Bill of Rights in the first place.

    Religious people can be dangerous, and as Rob has pointed out, they are accommodated a great deal for something that is wholly a choice and not enforced by the gov’t for the aforementioned reasons.


  • 7
    Chris M says:

    Excellent! Thanks Rob

  • 8

    […] read the fantastic and detailed Debate Primer: Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom by Rob Tisinai at Waking Up Now. Again with the […]

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