Does the prohibition of same-sex “marriage” violate the separation of church and state? Does the Constitution prohibit citizens from having their religious beliefs shape their political decisions?
First, let’s remember that charges of violating the separation of church and state are selectively hurled.
When public servants like President Obama and Senator Rob Portman or celebrities like Jason Collins cite their Christian beliefs as the justification for their support of the redefinition of marriage, no one in the press or homosexual community accuses them of violating the separation of church and state.
Martin Luther King Jr. asserted the following in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.
. . .
I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, non-biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.
In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church. . . . I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.
I never heard any liberals wail in indignation that this explicit profession of religious belief as the basis for public policy violated the Constitution.
Second, the Constitution does not prohibit citizens from having their faith inform their political decisions. The Constitution prevents the government from establishing a state religion and prevents the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. And the free exercise of religion is not restricted to what takes place in church. The exercise of religion encompasses or should encompass the totality of the lives of Christians, including their participation in self-governance.
It is impermissible for people of faith to enact laws that have solely a religious purpose. For example, it would be impermissible to pass laws mandating circumcision or communion. But if there are secular purposes for a law, the personal motives for any particular individual’s support for it are off-limits to the government.
People from diverse faith traditions and no faith could all arrive at the same position on a particular public policy. For example, although Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Baptists, and atheists may all oppose abortion because they value human life, the reasons for that valuation of life may differ. Christians and Jews may oppose abortion because they see in the Bible that humans are knitted together in their mothers’ wombs, whereas an atheist may oppose abortion because he knows from science that when a sperm and egg unite, new human life begins.
If there is a secular purpose for the law (e.g., to protect incipient human life or to protect the rights of children), then voting for it does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The source of the various parties’ desires to protect incipient life (or children’s rights) is not the business of the government. It would be not only absurd but also unethical for the government to try to ascertain the motives and beliefs behind anyone’s opposition to abortion and equally unethical for the government to assert that only those who have no religious faith may vote on abortion (or marital) laws. Such an assertion would most assuredly violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
It is IFI’s hope that these answers will help in some small way to enable our readers to discuss with greater confidence and facility the dangerous proposal to redefine marriage out of existence.
For more help on questions related to homosexuality, I encourage readers to visit the Public Discourse website.