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Freedom, liberty and marriage

Posted Feb. 23, 2012, at 5:25 p.m.

When it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, you can’t have one without the other. The attempt to redefine marriage here in Maine (again) also tests this union of freedoms.

Our Founding Fathers knew the inherent connection of these two integral freedoms and demonstrated their supreme relevance to a free society by making this the primary amendment in our Bill of Rights. Including free speech and religious freedom in our Constitution’s First Amendment was profoundly wise and arguably one of their greatest contributions to political history.

Because one of the Christian Civic League’s major tenets is defending religious freedom, I am greatly concerned about the language recently submitted for the same-sex marriage petition that seeks to redefine marriage here in Maine.

The question reads: “Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?”

The inclusion of religious freedom in this petition language is the same smokescreen used in New York which allowed legislators to justify accepting political pay-offs in order to abandon the defense of natural marriage. The language in the New York law and the Maine petition gives the false impression that residents’ religious rights are being broadly protected, but that is not the case.

The prescribed protections pertain only to clergies specifically in regard to wedding ceremonies. Think about what a tiny number of people that represents. There is no protection for faith-based organizations or other individuals who find participation in a same-sex marriage contrary to their religious beliefs.

So whose religious freedoms are being protected?

Ask the adoption agencies and foster care providers in Massachusetts and Illinois who closed their doors rather than being forced to provide services to same-sex couples.

Ask the town clerks in New York who refused to grant marriage licenses based upon their religious beliefs — deputy clerks could have still provided licenses and protected the rights of both parties.

Ask the New Jersey Christian campground owners who refused to rent their facilities for a same-sex civil union.

What about the florist or the organist who objects on religious grounds? What about public educators who have been suspended or fired for stating their opinions regarding same-sex marriage?

The challenge with freedom of religion and free speech is they often get messy. Defenders of the Constitution are well aware not all speech (religious or otherwise) is noble; as a matter fact, sometimes it may be very offensive. This is where political correctness has been allowed to run roughshod over what should be protected religious speech.

Those who defend natural marriage are more and more becoming aware their position is controversial and to some offensive. Attempts to silence these views are gaining momentum through campaigns of “tolerance.” As distasteful as some opinions of those who oppose same-sex marriage may be, lovers of freedom (conservative and liberal) should unify in opposition to any attempt to erode constitutionally protected speech.

Many times I am asked, “Why do you oppose the redefinition of marriage? How does it impact you and your marriage?” This is not about my marriage or any one marriage. There are societal consequences of undermining the fundamental building block of civilization — marriage. Threats to marriage have indeed already impacted religious freedom and free speech across our country and here in our state.

The protection of religious freedom and freedom of speech is not the only reason I oppose redefining marriage, but it certainly is at the epicenter of this critical debate.

We have a long year ahead of us before Mainers show up to the voting booths and determine whether or not they desire to redefine marriage. I believe society should protect and defend marriage, not undermine it.

Carroll L. Conley Jr. is executive director of the Christian Civic League.

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