What’s Coming Down the Aisle?

A bride and groom with a preacher, surrounded by legal text about marriage.

They don't come around very often, but there are moments in time when the world waits with bated breath for something significant to happen.

One of those moments occurred in late April, when the U.S. Supreme Court listened to arguments arising from several states that have passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and appellate judges who have said they no longer have the right to define marriage at all, given the fact that the Supreme Court knocked the teeth out of the federal Defense of Marriage Act two years ago.

The other is occurring right now, as we wait for the Court to release its decision, expected to occur on the last day of the session in June.

If the justices side with the more than 60 organizations that filed friend-of-the-court briefs affirming states' constitutional rights to create their own marriage laws, nothing really changes: Some states, like Alabama, will continue to defend their standards—this time, with backing from the highest court in the land. And others, like New York, will pass legislation creating same-sex marriage, and recognizing those relationships from other states.

But if it doesn't go the way social conservatives might hope and same-sex marriage becomes the law in all 50 states overnight (and some court watchers say the early writing on the wall does not look good), then the changes to our society will be broad and sweeping—and, like Roe v. Wade, the effects will last for decades and be extremely hard to reverse.

Citizen has identified several key areas where that impact might be felt, and to what degree.

Impact on Faith-Based Organizations and Churches

Churches and pastors already feel vulnerable. They're asking, "Can we refuse to host a same-sex wedding? To perform one? To rent out church facilities to celebrate one? Can we still host 'marriage conferences' that are restricted to heterosexual couples? Can we rent a meeting room to Alcoholics Anonymous but refuse a room to a gay group?"

 These questions lack easy answers because of the wide variance in state and local laws—but they will be crucial for churches to resolve, should same-sex marriage become the law of the land. The real threat to churches comes not so much from the fact of legal same-sex marriages, but from state and local "public accommodations" laws that make it illegal to "discriminate" on the basis of sexual orientation and other criteria.

Wherever churches provide "goods or services" (as defined in various laws) to the general public, as opposed to their members only, they run the risk of prosecution resulting in fines—and in some cases, jail time. More than 20 states currently have such public-accommodations laws that include "sexual orientation" as a protected class, and many more cities and towns have passed their own, even in places where no statewide law exists.

If the Supreme Court rules against social conservatives this month, look for more gay activists to lobby more states and municipalities to pass such laws. In those jurisdictions, legal traps will abound for churches and ministries trying to serve their communities, and wise leaders will protect their members by planning ahead. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) can help; see here to learn more.

Impact on Pastors

Being forced to officiate same-sex weddings is a universal concern among pastors, since in one sense they act as agents of the state by signing marriage licenses for ceremonies they perform. They quite reasonably fear that a hostile government might leverage the license-signing duty by imposing a same-sex wedding performance requirement as well.

Will this automatically happen if the case before the Court goes badly? In most cases, the answer will be no, probably not for the foreseeable future. However, the experience of two licensed ministers in Couer d'Alene, Ida., should serve as a potential warning for non-traditional wedding solemnizers.

In that case, Donald and Evelyn Knapp ran a for-profit wedding venue called The Hitching Post which briefly caught the city attorney's attention as a possible offender under the local public-accommodations ordinance as same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho by court order in 2014. The couple faced jail time and fines if they declined to perform a same-sex ceremony. But in the face of public outrage and some legal intervention from ADF, the city attorney backed away from prosecuting them. For now, same-sex marriage activists seem to be content with giving pastors of typical non-profit churches a pass.

Impact on Tax-Exempt Organizations

Churches and religious non-profits usually enjoy tax-exempt status at the federal, state and sometimes even local levels. For federal purposes, churches and non-profits usually carry a 501(c)3 charity designation (named after the relevant part of the tax code), which means they pay no income tax, and donors can claim those amounts as deductions on their tax returns.

How safe might that tax-exempt status be in a brave new world of court-imposed same-sex marriage? The IRS has the power to revoke it for "discrimination," as it did in 1970 to Bob Jones University in response to the interracial dating policy the school had at the time. Look for increasing calls to punish churches and religious non-profits for "discrimination" regarding the definition of marriage if the Court swings to the left.

Chillingly, same-sex marriage activists have already used this tool to punish a church at the state level—successfully.

In 2007, New Jersey revoked a tax exemption previously granted to the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a United Methodist church/ministry, after it refused to allow a same-sex couple to perform a "commitment ceremony" in the church's beach-front pavilion.

Where does all this leave faith-based organizations? If the Church resists the cultural "carrot" cajoling it to change its view and join the "right side of history" on same-sex marriage, it may then feel the "stick" of government-imposed penalties. Faith-based organizations increasingly will have to exercise caution in the formation and operation of their ministries, and rely on advice from trusted legal counselors.

Impact on Christian Business Owners

Taking a public stand for one-man, one-woman marriage can come at a cost, ranging from social disapproval and threats to financial penalties and legal nightmares.

By now, we've all heard about wedding vendors—florists, bakers, event planners, photographers, hotel owners—who are in trouble with authorities for refusing to participate in same-sex ceremonies. They've been hounded by activists, hauled before human rights commissions, fined, ordered to be "re-educated" or forced to stop providing services for weddings. Over the last few years, we've chronicled many of these stories in Citizen and on our website.

 Sadly, the number is only growing. And wedding vendors could soon be joined by other Christians running non-wedding service businesses in the near future. Here's just a sampling of those who already have had their ability to work directly affected by gay activists who don't like their political views:

Telegenic twins David and Jason Benham had their television show Flip it Forward cancelled by HGTV last year after protests about their traditional marriage views.

The American Psychological Association in 2004 approved resolutions affirming same-sex marriage and parenting based on recommendations from a task force that specifically excluded members holding traditional views.

Same-sex marriage-activists and their allies called for a boycott and started a social media campaign against an organic grocery story in Portland, Ore., after the owner posted comments on her Facebook page opposing same-sex marriage.

Impact on Parental Rights and Education

A Supreme Court ruling redefining marriage nationwide will also have a profound impact on parental rights in education. In short, the Court's stamp of approval on the same-sex license to marry will also mean a license for schools to teach children of all ages that homosexuality is something to be endorsed and celebrated—whether parents like it or not.

Parents have both a right and responsibility to oversee their children's education, especially when it comes to topics of sexuality, marriage and family. Christian parents—and even parents of other faiths or with no faith at all—recognize that in this often over-sexualized culture, the power to control how, when and if their children are taught about sensitive sexuality and family topics is a freedom worth safeguarding. However, that will be a challenge—especially with a looming court decision that could further erode that right.

For example, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, parents can expect to see the court-ordered definition of marriage in public school textbooks and lesson plans. A revised marriage definition will open the door for a discussion of the normalcy of homosexuality and transgender issues at younger ages in topics across the board, not just sex education.

California already requires public schools to include the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in social studies instruction. Since it's almost impossible to discuss homosexual individuals and their contributions to society without talking about their sexuality, the topic will likely become more commonplace in the classroom. Sadly, instead of teaching children that people deserve a place in history books because of their outstanding accomplishments, regardless of how they identify sexually, our history and social science courses could become platforms for adult sexual advocacy.

Schools that have allowed teachers to speak favorably about one-man, one-woman marriage as the norm will fall under increasing pressure to give at least equal time to discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Curricula changes will eventually affect homeschool and private schools, too, as activists lobby book publishers to be more "inclusive." A court ruling imposing same-sex marriage is also likely to empower ongoing efforts to propose nationwide sexuality standards, which also could impact curricula.

To date, parents in many jurisdictions have had latitude to speak into educational courses or sections of material that discuss sexuality, even to the point of being allowed to opt their children out of such courses or reading assignments. A redefinition of marriage by the Supreme Court puts "opt-out" rights in jeopardy.

Parents granted opt-out rights for sex-education programs likely will not be given that same opportunity in other academic topics, like American history and social studies. State and local responses to a pro-same-sex marriage ruling will vary when it comes to retaining or jettisoning parental rights. Federal mandates are also likely, further limiting the voice parents will have in their children's education on sensitive topics.

Impact on Free Speech

But perhaps the broadest area in which a ruling imposing same-sex marriage on the nation might have an impact is on everyday speech. To see how that might play out, we need look no further than our neighbor to the north.

According to an analysis published by The Witherspoon Institute in 2012, "Much speech that was permitted before same-sex marriage now carries risks (in Canada). Many of those who have persisted in voicing their dissent have been subjected to investigations by human rights commissions and (in some cases) proceedings before human rights tribunals. Those who are poor, poorly educated, and without institutional affiliation have been particularly easy targets—anti-discrimination laws are not always applied evenly. Some have been ordered to pay fines, make apologies, and undertake never to speak publicly on such matters again. Targets have included individuals writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, and ministers of small congregations of Christians. A Catholic bishop faced two complaints—both eventually withdrawn—prompted by comments he made in a pastoral letter about marriage." But even in the cases where speech eventually prevailed, the legal costs of recovering that freedom were staggering.

Here in the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted earlier this year to take over Internet regulation under the guise of "net neutrality." While the main results of that eventually will be less competition among Internet service providers, slower broadband speeds, higher fees for users and a bevy of potential new taxes, there could be repercussions for everyday people using social media to make their views known on any number of topics. In a hostile marriage environment, a weaponized FCC could easily be used to squelch free speech in the U.S., just as we've seen in Canada.

"Anyone who said anything about same-sex marriage or gays and lesbians in general," says ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell, "would be at risk of facing the wrath of an administration that says sexual orientation should be treated under the Constitution in the same way as race."

For More Information

For details of how a national law creating same-sex marriage has impacted rel="noopener noreferrer" Canada, is available here. "Same-Sex Marriage rel="noopener noreferrer" Ten Years On: Lessons from Canada" is available here.

© 2015 Focus on the Family. Originally published in the June, 2015 issue of Citizen magazine.