Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Same Sex Marriage Threatens First Amendment Freedoms

Yesterday the Illinois House of Representatives passed SB 10, the bill legalizing same sex marriage in that state.  The bill was passed by the Illinois Senate in February, and Governor Pat Quinn has pledged to sign it, making Illinois the fifteenth state allowing same sex couples to wed.  Once signed, the bill is slated to take effect June 1, but political maneuvering by the Democrat super-majorities in both houses of the Illinois General Assembly could lead to an effective date of early January.  The legislators who made the rules have proposed legislation enabling them to break the rules.
Rules are always inconsequential in the battle to force acceptance of same sex marriage onto those opposed. Senate Bill 10 was titled the “Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act,” a deliberately deceitful (and, unfortunately, effective) move by the bill’s proponents. The bill allows churches to refuse to marry same sex couples in a “sanctuary” area of the church, but all other areas are fair game.  If a church has a daycare, gymnasium, or area for social gatherings that is ever used for any other purpose than worship services, then it must be made available to anyone who wants to wed, regardless of that church’s stance on the morality of the union.  Chicago Representative Greg Harris, the openly gay sponsor of the bill, stated during the debate on the House floor that “private clubs” who join the “stream of commerce” would be required to allow gay marriages in their facilities.  The undefined “stream of commerce” comment has religious organizations up in arms, and rightfully so.  Does inviting kids of all faiths to play Upward Basketball in their gymnasium put a church into the “stream of commerce?”  Would charging a fee to attend a pro-life dinner become tantamount to an invitation for gay couples to marry at a Knights of Columbus hall?   No doubt about it.  The bill was designed to force religious people to practice their faith within the four walls of the church sanctuary and nowhere else.

Members of the Illinois House who spoke in opposition to the bill pointed out that the bill fails to protect the free exercise of religion on an individual level.  Jeanne Ives, a freshman Representative from the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, discussed the havoc wrought on public education and parental rights after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts.  David Reis, a downstate Republican from Jasper County, pointed out that judges, wedding photographers, bakers, and others who provide wedding services have an individual right under the US Constitution to practice their religion wherever they see fit, yet this bill afforded no individual protection whatsoever.  “Don’t force the people of this state to live by one set of rules during the week, and another on Sunday,” he pleaded.  As the votes, recorded on the giant voting scoreboards that hang above the House chamber, slowly climbed to the 60 necessary for passage, it became clear that their pleas had fallen on deaf ears.
Political maneuvering had usurped the First Amendment.
The bill ultimately passed with 61 votes.  Three Republicans voted for it, including former House Minority Leader Tom Cross.  Only one Democrat spoke on the House floor against the bill:  Chicago Representative Mary Flowers, who chastised members who had equated the issue to inter-racial marriage.  “I don’t appreciate race being injected into this conversation,” she said.

Gay is not the new black.
Race relations played an important part in keeping the bill at bay for nearly a year.  The bill first appeared on the horizon in December of 2012.  In response, several black pastors from prominent churches across the state formed the African American Clergy Coalition (AACC). Together with the Coalition to Protect Children and Marriage, made up of several pro-family groups including Family PAC, the Illinois Family Institute, and Eagle Forum, the AACC targeted grass-roots lobbying in districts represented by members of the Black Caucus.  House members in those districts answered thousands of phone calls, received visits from busloads of constituents, and were subjected to hundreds of radio ads played in predominantly African American neighborhoods.  The grass roots lobbying held back liberal legislation in Obama’s home state for eleven months, but when powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan promised to protect the re-election bids of Democrats supporting the bill, the tide shifted and the bill squeaked through by a two vote margin.
The net effect of this legislation on religious liberty is potentially devastating. When Illinois passed civil unions three years ago, Catholic Social Services was forced out of business when Illinois cancelled its foster care contracts. The largest private provider of foster care services in the state refused to place children with same-sex couples, and the state refused to let it refer such couples to other agencies.   
Now that SB 10 has passed, the only hope left for religious organizations and people of faith is seeking remedy through the courts.  “The legislation that has been adopted contains no meaningful protections for religious liberty. We will see a torrent of actions aimed at people of faith and religious groups,” said Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage.
The battle over marriage is the ultimate test of First Amendment freedom.  Marriage litigation could potentially become one of small victories as we have seen with pro-life cases.  Constitutional conservatives should beware, however:  proponents of same-sex marriage are following a trend set by those seeking to limit Second Amendment rights.  Just as gun control advocates have argued that there is no private right to gun ownership, gay rights activists are arguing that there is no individual right to religious expression where individuals are “engaged in the public marketplace” or have “entered the stream of commerce.”  Following this distorted view of the Constitution, churches can preach and teach any ideology, but individuals must refrain from practicing their religious beliefs anywhere except in the privacy of their homes or within the four walls of their churches.
The current push to enact same sex “marriage” laws is a monumental threat to religious freedom in every state that enacts it.  The months and years to come will be a true “test of fire” for individual freedom and the First Amendment.

Sharee Langenstein is a wife, mother of six daughters, and attorney from Southern Illinois.  She serves Eagle Forum as its National Issues Chairman for Religious Liberty.  She is also the registered lobbyist in Illinois for both Eagle Forum and Family-PAC.

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