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Prop 8 ruling could impact religious freedoms

SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–It likely is a very rare event when the Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic official statements on marriage are read aloud in a federal courtroom, as happened earlier this year during the trial of California Prop 8.

It’s probably also unusual for a key witness to declare that “religion is the chief obstacle for gay and lesbian political progress,” as was said.

But the Prop 8 trial was anything but usual; in reading the transcripts from the 12 days of testimony in January, religion was a major theme, with traditional Christian beliefs on “gay marriage” often cast as bigoted and tantamount to racism.

As both sides wait for a decision that could come any day and that could have major implications for state marriage laws from coast to coast, conservative leaders are warning that what took place in the trial is only a preview of how supporters of “gay marriage” will cast conservative Christians if Prop 8 is overturned and “gay marriage” is legalized nationwide. Those leaders say backers of “gay marriage” will try to marginalize Christians by comparing them to the 1950s and ’60s opponents of civil rights.

After Prop 8 passed by a margin of 52-48 percent in 2008 and defined marriage as between one man and one woman, supporters of “gay marriage” filed suit in federal court last year.

Religion was a major theme on five of the 12 days of testimony.

“They were trying to show that religions during the Prop 8 campaign were pandering to prejudicial stereotypes to motivate the voters,” Jordan Lorence, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, told Baptist Press. ADF attorneys have worked to uphold Prop 8, and Lorence attended the trial. “That feeds the fires that those who take an orthodox Christian view on the definition of marriage are the equivalent of Ku Klux Klan bigots that need to be driven to the margins of our society.”

For instance:

— On the third day of the trial, San Francisco city attorney Therese Stewart asked Yale University history professor George Chauncey to read portions of Southern Baptist resolutions on “gay marriage” from 2003 and 2008, as well as a Vatican document on the subject from 2003. After asking Chauncey to assume that such religious beliefs are sincerely held, Stewart asked, “During the battles over segregation and interracial marriage, did people hold sincere religious beliefs that were rooted in prejudice?” Chauncey answered “yes” and then continued, “Many people in the South deeply believed that interracial marriage was against God’s will. I don’t question their sincerity. I believe, though, that that reflects the larger system of prejudices that had shaped their understanding of the world.”

— On the trial’s seventh day, Stanford University political science professor Gary Segura, a witness for the plaintiffs, said he thought that “religion is the chief obstacle for gay and lesbian political progress, and it’s the chief obstacle for a couple of reasons.” Among those reasons, he said, “Biblical condemnation of homosexuality … on a regular basis to a huge percentage of the public makes the political ground, the political opportunity structure very hostile to gay interests.”

Attorneys trying to overturn Prop 8 also tried to place the blame on religious groups for its passage:

— On the seventh day of testimony, Theodore J. Boutrous, an attorney for the plaintiffs, asked Segura if he could think of an example “where two churches of the scope and size and power” of the Catholics and Mormons “had banded together and arrayed themself against a particular minority group in society.” Segura said from his experience it was “unprecedented.”

— Plaintiff attorney David Boies asked a series of leading questions to a defense witness on Day 11, such as, “The reason [Prop 8] passed was because of religion, correct?” The witness said he disagreed but Boies later tried it a different way, casting “gay marriage” in a sympathetic light and asking, “Do you believe that it is generally accepted that it is not appropriate for a majority religion or majority religion coalition to impose their views on a minority?”

The case, known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger, is being watched closely because 28 other states have constitutional amendments that define marriage as between one man and one woman. Additionally, most states that don’t have amendments have statues defining marriage in the traditional sense. If the case makes it to the U.S. Supreme Court, all those amendments and laws are in jeopardy.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, responded to the denomination’s courtroom references, telling the SBC annual meeting in June that the SBC’s beliefs are not the product of centuries of hatred and prejudice but rather “the product of centuries of people of God being faithful to God’s Word and God’s definition of His institution, holy matrimony.”

Lorence, the Alliance Defense Fund attorney, said religious liberty is already taking a hit across the country in cases involving laws protecting homosexuality. He mentioned a New Mexico case in which, last year, a state judge ruled that a husband-and wife-owned photography company violated state anti-discrimination laws when they refused to take pictures of a lesbian commitment ceremony. He also pointed to a New Jersey case in which a Methodist-owned beachfront property lost part of its tax-exempt status because its leaders denied use of the property to a lesbian couple for a commitment ceremony. States with “gay marriage” also have seen controversies over what is taught in public schools. Legalization of “gay marriage” nationwide, Lorence said, only will make matters far worse.

“We are not going to have a wonderful pluralistic nirvana of diversity,” he said. “We are going to have something harsh that’s similar to a regime … that imposes punishments on those who criticize or blaspheme their doctrines.”

The Southern Baptist and Catholic passages read in the courtroom were anything but controversial when viewed through the lens of Scripture’s teachings on marriage. One SBC resolution excerpt that was read said, “Any action giving homosexual unions the legal status of marriage denies the fundamental immorality of homosexual behavior.” It pointed to Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Another passage read aloud said, “We call on Southern Baptists not only to stand against same-sex unions, but to demonstrate our love for those practicing homosexuality by sharing with them the forgiving and transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The Vatican document read, in part, “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts ‘close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.'”

Yet both were based on prejudice, Prop 8 opponents said in the courtroom.

Maggie Gallagher, who supported Prop 8 and who serves on the executive committee of the National Organization for Marriage, asked in a posting at NationalReview.com, “Could you try any harder to confirm religious people’s fears about where gay marriage is heading?”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. The transcripts of the Prop 8 trial in California can be read at http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/?CID=12012 (in the right-hand column under “legal docs”).

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust