The U.S. Supreme Court, depending on the relative weight Justice Anthony Kennedy gives to the dignity of same-sex couples versus the millennia man-woman marriage has supposedly remained unchanged, may very well make gay marriage legal in all 50 states. That means that every state and local government, down to the humble county clerk or justice of the peace, will have no choice but to issue marriage licenses and wed same-sex couples just as they do for opposite-sex couples.
That does not mean, however, that pastor David Joiner of Lifesprings Church of Liberty Hill, Texas will be forced by the government to officiate at gay weddings. And it certainly doesn't mean, as Joiner fears, that pedophilia will follow the path blazed by homosexuality toward broad legal and social acceptance and that he will then be forced to solemnize unions between men and underage boys.
Nevertheless, the Texas legislature is busy easing the fears of Joiner and countless other, mostly evangelical clergy. On Monday morning, a Senate committee heard testimony on a bill authored by state Senator Craig Estes that says that religious organizations and clergy "may not be required top solemnize any marriage...if the action would cause the organization or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief."
Most people will -- or should -- find the measure relatively unobjectionable. While the refusal of certain churches and pastors to participate in gay weddings will no doubt cause considerable personal and spiritual torment for some of those who are rebuffed, inflicting personal and spiritual torment is a time-honored tradition in many denominations that the government is powerless to interfere with. The important thing, from a legal standpoint, is that the state recognizes the marriage and all the rights and benefits that flow from it.
The thing is, this ground is already covered by the First Amendment, which protects all manner of vile and retrograde beliefs. When the Supreme Court decided in Loving v. Virginia that states can't ban interracial marriage, it didn't mean that preachers were forced to condone miscegenation, simply that the government had to. Indeed, there are still churches that openly refuse to marry blacks and whites, as is their constitutional prerogative.
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Then what will Estes' bill accomplish? Practically, nothing much. Even the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network offered no objection to the bill (provided that Estes makes a minor tweak to the wording) on the grounds that it merely restates existing law.Symbolically, it lets lawmakers throw a bone to the conservative preachers and religious fundamentalists in their district who, judging from their testimony this morning, are in a lather about the prospect of legal gay marriage.
It wasn't just Joiner, who supplemented his slippery-slope-to-pedophilia argument with pronouncements that homosexuality "violates natural law" and "offends God." One pastor worried that, if he is forced to perform gay weddings, he will some day be required to wed a woman to her dog. Another, from Round Rock, prophesied that, without the bill's passage, clergy will be inundated by lawsuits from same-sex couples that will have pastors "wasting time when we should be saving souls." Still another quoted Focus on the Family founder James Dobson to the effect that homosexuality will precipitate the fall of Western civilization. A representative of Concerned Women for America's South Texas chapter accused the LGBT community of "hate crimes" and "targeted bigotry" against religious institutions. "So I ask you, who are the bullies, the bigots and the haters?"
The bill has broad support from Republicans, and a handful of Democrats in the House have signed on as coauthors of an identical, including "pansexual" state Representative Mary Gonzalez. The Senate bill was easily passed out of committee.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.