The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that legalizes same-sex marriage across America comes just as the nation is preparing to celebrate its independence. The Fourth of July is a time to reflect on the freedoms that we enjoy—and the liberties that are in danger because of this ruling. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissent, voiced his opinion that the decision “creates serious questions about religious liberty.” He wrote:
Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution. Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for dissenting religious practice.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court only touched on the subject of religious liberty. Chief Justice Roberts continued:
The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.
As Justice Roberts noted, the question of religious freedom remains unanswered. But the freedom of religious expression is more than just an amendment to our Constitution, it is written in our hearts and observed in our actions. The Founding Fathers created a government in which all people work together for the common good. Religious liberty and same-sex marriage can only co-exist peacefully if those on both sides of the issue work together. This means respecting one another’s deeply held convictions. In a recent editorial, Republican strategist and commentator Ana Navarro wrote:
There are people on both sides of this issue who I respect and love. It is time for everyone to remember that tolerance is a two-way street. We must be respectful of people’s rights— that includes the right to marry who you choose, and also the right to practice the religion that you choose. These two rights can co-exist.
We are a pragmatic nation. We can and must find a solution to the conflict. There can’t be that many bakers, caterers and florists in America who don’t like to make money. The wedding industry is a multibillion dollar business. Most wedding vendors will be happy to charge same-sex couples for their services. The few that don’t are refusing the business based on religious objections.
I get the “it’s the principle of the thing” argument. On the other hand, who wants to pay for and eat a cake baked by someone who thinks you are committing a sin? Thank you, I’ll pass.
In a country as big, diverse and democratic as ours, we can come up with narrowly crafted exemptions for cottage industries and small vendors whose religious beliefs do not allow them to participate in a same-sex wedding.
Before we embark on countless legal challenges and the elderly evangelical baker making cakes out of her garage in Arkansas gets dragged into court, isn’t it worth trying to find a little sliver of common ground? …
Religious leaders have voiced the same need to consider the rights of all. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder M. Russell Ballard said:
I now speak to all those who are not of our faith. If there are issues of concern, let us talk about them. We want to be helpful. Please understand, however, that our doctrines and teachings are set by the Lord, so sometimes we will have to agree to disagree with you, but we can do so without being disagreeable. In our communities we can and must work together in an atmosphere of courtesy, respect, and civility.
I believe that the Founding Fathers sought to create a forum in which all people governed themselves based on basic laws of civility and respect for others. This is the essence of freedom of religion, and it is the only way that true freedom is attained. In the fight for true freedom, here are three things that all must remember.
The Power of Choice is a God-Given Right
Choice, or agency, is a God-given right. It is the fundamental basis for our life on earth. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:
God intends that His children should act according to the moral agency He has given them, “that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.” It is His plan and His will that we have the principal decision-making role in our own life’s drama. God will not live our lives for us nor control us as if we were His puppets….
The only way that we can choose for ourselves is to be truly free to choose. Elder Robert D. Hales said:
… Moral agency is an essential part of God’s plan for all His children.… We must understand that the faithful use of our agency depends upon our having religious freedom.
Religious freedom is the ability to think, believe and live according to our deeply held convictions. This is where religious liberty and gay marriage clash. And this is where the battle is heating up. In his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts wrote:
Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage.
There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.
Protecting the power of choice means that we safeguard the choices of all people—not only those whose beliefs and ideals agree with our own. Intrinsic in this is the protection for the beliefs of others as well. There must be room for all voices, beliefs and ideals in the public square.
Fighting for Family
Those on both sides of the debate are fighting for family. The question is, who gets to decide what that is? The Family: A Proclamation to the World states:
We… solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God…. The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.
The subject of traditional marriage—one between one man and one woman—was the focus of a multi-national, multi-faith conference at the Vatican in November 2014. Of this conference on the family, Elder L. Tom Perry said:
Pope Francis opened the first session of the assembly with this statement: “We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. … It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.” …
This was followed by three days of presentation and discussion with religious leaders addressing the subject of marriage between a man and a woman. … I observed that when various faiths and denominations and religions are united on marriage and family, they are also united on the values and loyalty and commitment which are naturally associated with family units. It was remarkable for me to see how marriage and family-centered priorities cut across and superseded any political, economic, or religious differences. When it comes to love of spouse and hopes, worries, and dreams for children, we are all the same.
We as a nation cannot lose sight of the essential role that families play in society. A family isn’t just a random group of people, nor is it merely a group of people who are bonded by affection. A family is a group of people who are bonded by ties that can only come through the proper God-given channels. As Elder Perry said:
What the restored gospel brings to the discussion on marriage and family is so large and so relevant that it cannot be overstated: we make the subject eternal! We take the commitment and the sanctity of marriage to a greater level because of our belief and understanding that families go back to before this earth was and that they can go forward into eternity. …
The entire theology of our restored gospel centers on families and on the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe in a premortal life where we all lived as literal spirit children of God our Heavenly Father. We believe that we were, and still are, members of His family.
We believe that marriage and family ties can continue beyond the grave—that marriages performed by those who have the proper authority in His temples will continue to be valid in the world to come. Our marriage ceremonies eliminate the words “till death do us part” and instead say, “for time and for all eternity.”
We also believe that strong traditional families are not only the basic units of a stable society, a stable economy, and a stable culture of values—but that they are also the basic units of eternity and of the kingdom and government of God.
We believe that the organization and government of heaven will be built around families and extended families.
Those who are defenders of the traditional family firmly believe that they are following the laws of God. Governments may change and alter the laws of men, but not the laws and doctrines of God. And, it would appear, the defenders of traditional family are not few and far between. Elder Perry said:
Despite what much of media and entertainment outlets may suggest, however, and despite the very real decline in the marriage and family orientation of some, the solid majority of mankind still believes that marriage should be between one man and one woman. They believe in fidelity within marriage, and they believe in the marriage vows of “in sickness and in health” and “till death do us part.”
We need to remind ourselves once in a while, as I was reminded in Rome, of the wonderfully reassuring and comforting fact that marriage and family are still the aspiration and ideal of most people and that we are not alone in those beliefs.
Following Jesus Christ
Those who believe in traditional marriage based on religious convictions are seeking to follow the example and teachings of God. For Christians, the ultimate goal is to be disciples of Jesus Christ, the Master teacher. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said:
Throughout His ministry Jesus gave commandments. And He taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15; see also verses 21, 23). He affirmed that keeping His commandments would require His followers to leave what He called “that which is highly esteemed among men” (Luke 16:15) and “the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8; see also verse 13). He also warned, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). …
Following Christ is not a casual or occasional practice but a continuous commitment and way of life that applies at all times and in all places.
Thus, followers of Christ are to be in the world but not of the world. They seek to follow the laws of God, not to change them. Of this discipleship, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:
So here we have the burden of those called to bear the messianic message. In addition to teaching, encouraging, and cheering people on (that is the pleasant part of discipleship), from time to time these same messengers are called upon to worry, to warn, and sometimes just to weep (that is the painful part of discipleship). They know full well that the road leading to the promised land “flowing with milk and honey” of necessity runs by way of Mount Sinai, flowing with “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” …
Unfortunately, messengers of divinely mandated commandments are often no more popular today than they were anciently….
At the zenith of His mortal ministry, Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” To make certain they understood exactly what kind of love that was, He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” and “whosoever … shall break one of [the] least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be … the least in the kingdom of heaven.” Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).
Although the Savior never condoned sin, He had the utmost compassion and love for the sinner. He loves us perfectly. Of Christlike love, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:
Jesus said it is easy to love those who love us; even the wicked can do that. But Jesus Christ taught a higher law. His words echo through the centuries and are meant for us today. They are meant for all who desire to be His disciples. They are meant for you and me: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
When our hearts are filled with the love of God, we become “kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving [each other], even as God for Christ’s sake [forgave us].”
The pure love of Christ can remove the scales of resentment and wrath from our eyes, allowing us to see others the way our Heavenly Father sees us: as flawed and imperfect mortals who have potential and worth far beyond our capacity to imagine. Because God loves us so much, we too must love and forgive each other.
For disciples of Christ, this is imperative. It is the way that we can change the world—by loving others. It is through this love and compassion that we can find common ground with those on the other side of the same-sex marriage issue. And it is in finding the common ground that we can work together for the common good.
It is important for those who are fighting for same-sex marriage to understand why others oppose it—and vice versa. It is only here that we can all find the common ground upon which we can build our compromises. The U.S. Supreme Court can legalize same-sex marriage, but only Americans themselves can uphold the freedoms upon which our country was built.