The more I think about the Vermont legislature’s vote to recognize same-sex marriages in the Green Mountain State, the better the result seems.Â More than anything, their legislation answers the most serious concern raised by social conservatives: that state recognition of gay marriage would mean churches would be required to perform such ceremonies or lose their tax-exempt status.
Throughout the fall campaign on Proposition 8, opponents of the measure charged that those pushing its passage were lying when they suggested “that churches will lose their tax-exempt status for preaching against same-sex marriages. . . . This greatest lie of all is also potentially the most damaging to the No campaign, because it instills fear that our secular marriage laws if allowed to stand will intrude on church practices.”
I don’t dismiss the social conservatives’ fears as readily as does the blogger I quote above.Â What he sees as a “lie,” I see as a legitimate fear, particularly given the way courts have limited the free expression of religion over the years.
And the best way to answer the fear is with affirmative legislation spelling out the rights of religious institutions to define marriage according to their particular creed, as Vermont did.Â Some may say such provisions aren’t necessary.Â And maybe they’re not, but people do fear judicial tyranny, especially when a state Supreme Court acts in direct contradiction to the will of the people.
(That said, maybe even an explicit law won’t be enough to prevent capricious judges from imposing their will on the people as David Benkof contends here.)
Still, the religious liberty provisions serve to answer a charge against state recognition of same-sex marriage leveled by social conservatives.Â They help deflate that argument while protecting religious freedom.