By Morgan Lee and Jeremy Weber, Christianity Today.
So the question becomes: How will gay rights and religious rights be balanced?
Below is what the justices said in today’s majority opinion and four dissents, as well as a summary of related survey data.
Essentially, the majority believe the First Amendment gives religious groups and people “proper protection” to “continue to advocate” their beliefs on traditional marriage. But the dissenters are more skeptical, and concerned that “people of faith can take no comfort” in the ruling.
“Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises,” acknowledges Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in Obergefell v. Hodges, “and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”
He explains that while that “sincere, personal opposition” cannot be “enacted law and public policy” without harming gay couples and violating the Fourteenth Amendment, he favors a continued “open and searching debate” between those who favor and oppose same-sex marriage.
“It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned,” writes Kennedy in a paragraph that will likely become the focus of scrutiny by church-state experts.
“The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,” he continues, “and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
Chief Justice John Roberts is less confident. In his dissent, he argues that today’s decision “creates serious questions about religious liberty.”
“Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution,” he writes. “Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for dissenting religious practice.” But he says the Supreme Court is too much of a “blunt instrument” to do likewise. [Thus the evangelical argument for “if you can’t beat them, amend them.”]
“The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage,” writes Roberts. “The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.”
Roberts looks ahead to the likelihood of future conflicts between gay rights and religious rights, such as the tax status of conservative Christian colleges.