A lot of people think the government can recognize same-sex unions as “marriage” without any detrimental effects on religious institutions and religious liberties. I think this is a delusion. The legal recognition of same-sex unions will almost inevitably result in religious discrimination on a social level, and likely on a legal level as well.
How can the government say on the one hand that a failure to legally recognize same-sex unions as “marriage” and treat them as equal to opposite-sex unions in every way is to engage in discriminatory behavior, and yet at the same time permit churches to discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to marry them? Talk about legal schizophrenia! Consider the logic involved:
(1) Same-sex marriage is good
(2) Discrimination is bad
(3) Therefore discrimination against same-sex marriage is bad
(4) Therefore the state cannot discriminate against same-sex couples but churches can.
The conclusion (4) does not follow from the three premises. What does follow from the two premises is that anyone who discriminates against same-sex couples seeking marriage is bad. Since most religious institutions discriminate against same-sex couples seeking marriage, they must be bad. The question is what should be done to these bad religious people/institutions.
One option is for society to make them the object of social derision for acting in a way that the government deems discriminatory. The other option is to take legal action against religious institutions, forcing them to comply to with the law. If the government wants the law to be consistent and avoid legal schizophrenia, they must make it illegal for religious institutions to refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or refuse to recognize their civil marriages as valid. After all, if same-sex marriage is a fundamental civil right, how could the government permit churches to deny someone their rights?
Of course, the government could argue that while same-sex couples cannot be denied the right to get married, they have no right to demand that private institutions perform their marriage. The government could also argue that while it is unjust discrimination for religious institutions to refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and refuse to recognize same-sex unions as “marriages,” religious institutions have the (unfortunate) right to do so given their first amendment liberties. Given the way the courts have interpreted the first amendment, however, I am not convinced that religious institutions will be protected by it. Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear…there will be negative social implications for religious people and religious institutions if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land.