Matthew J. Franck:
So what is the damage that I think has been done to the arguments for same-sex marriage? Well, one of the endlessly repeated arguments of the advocates for this revolution in the meaning of marriage is that the defenders of the only meaning of marriage ever known in human history (that it unites men and women to form families) are “imposing their religion” on people who disagree with them. This is supposedly un-American, unjust, unconstitutional, unconscionable—un-you-name-it.
Here I will content myself with observing that every one of these wrongheaded criticisms is exactly on point as a criticism of President Obama and all other supporters of same-sex marriage who rely in any way on their faith, as they understand it, to justify their support. If the people of California can be faulted for “imposing their religion” on their fellow citizens by passing Proposition 8, then it is equally true that President Obama is “imposing his religion” on his fellow Americans when he says, as he did last week, that laws preventing same-sex marriage are unjust to gay couples desiring to get married. If he is not imposing his religion on anyone, neither is anyone else.
Except, no. When other people are legally permitted to conduct themselves in their private lives in a way that your personal faith disapproves of, nothing is being imposed upon you. But when everyone, regardless of their personal religion, is legally prohibited from doing something because of the views of a certain faith group, then this is being imposed upon them because of religion.
If everyone is legally allowed to consume pork products, this imposes nothing upon anyone, even if some people hold religious views which forbid this. But if no one is legally allowed to eat pork because some religious groups disapprove of it, then this religious view is being imposed upon everyone. Also the use of alcohol, the keeping of dogs as pets or service animals, the equality of women in marriage, and so on.
The absence of a particular limitation on everyone’s liberties does not (inherently) constitute a limitation on the liberties of a group of people who wish to impose the aforementioned limitation on the entire population. Their freedom already does not extend far enough to infringe on everyone else’s freedom.