Can Christianity and Gay Marriage Coexist in America?

My conservative, Christian friends don't think so. They're wrong: We can all live in freedom.

In the world I’d love to see five years from now, two — seemingly oxymoronic — things will be true:

• My gay and lesbian friends will be perfectly free to marry the person they love, have kids, and grow old together.

• My conservative Christian friends will be secure enough in their First Amendment freedoms to gripe about that.

It’s very possible we’re about to find out whether I’ll get my two wishes. The Supreme Court is expected to rule this week on a pair of gay marriage cases — and while it would be surprising, it’s entirely possible that gay marriage will be the law of the land by Friday.

Some of my conservative friends are terrified. They don’t share my hope for a future where they and my gay friends both get to exercise their freedoms at the same time — they don’t believe it’s possible for such a future to exist.

So they’re afraid their ministers will be forced by the government to perform same-sex marriages. They’re afraid that Jenny Christian, the cake-maker, will be forced to make gay wedding cakes. They’re afraid that religious schools will be forced to teach respect for gay marriages.

Take Michelle Bauman, writing in April for the Catholic News Agency:

The Danish government recently determined that “gay marriage” includes a right to get married in any church in the country, even if that church objects to such unions. Churches throughout the country will now literally be forced to conduct marriages they believe to be invalid and sinful.

This could happen in the U.S. — government regulations forcing Catholic churches to conduct “gay marriages” with the justification that they are not required to recognize them as sacramental.

Actually, that almost certainly couldn’t happen in the U.S.: European countries don’t really have the same First Amendment tradition of religious freedom that the United States has always had. In this country, the Supreme Court has almost always interpreted that amendment broadly and favorably toward letting individuals make their own religious decisions: It’s impossible to imagine a scenario whereby the court would give the go-ahead to laws requiring churches to perform same-sex marriages.

So take Matthew Franck at The Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, who raises a more substantive concern:

There are several well-known cases of bakers, photographers — even a religious nonprofit property owner — facing grave legal jeopardy for their refusal to offer their services or facilities in contradiction of their felt obligations to witness to the truth about marriage as it is taught by their faith.

And indeed, such cases do exist, and I can see why they might frighten my Christian friends. Here’s the assurance I want to offer them: We’re just beginning to figure out the legal ramifications of gay marriage. The end will look probably more favorable than you think.

Yes, we’re in for a few years of lawsuits and litigation — some of it also ending up before the Supreme Court — about how to balance the rights of everybody involved. But I find it hard to believe a country that won’t force a pharmacist to dispense birth control because it goes against his religious convictions is going to ultimately decide that Christian pastry-makers have to whip up a wedding cake for Adam and Steve.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think such a law would be wise. If the pastry-maker — or photographer, or property owner — won’t oblige a gay marriage, the happy couple can in the vast majority of cases take their money down the street to the person who will accommodate them. Everybody can get what they want (maybe with just a little more effort) with no harm done to anybody or their consciences.

That’s not to say there won’t be some tradeoffs for Christians and Christian groups as gay rights become more entrenched. Catholic adoption agencies will have to give up the idea they can shut gay parents out of the adoption process and receive public taxpayer funds to do so. Similarly, Archbishop Charles Chaput can probably either kick the kids of gay parents out of Catholic schools or he can accept public funding for those same schools, but he shouldn’t be allowed to do both. No one is entitled to taxpayer funds. Your rights aren’t being violated if you’re allowed to worship freely but can’t make a little government cash on the side.

Ultimately, though, it shouldn’t have to be the case that we choose to let one group of people have freedom and bring another under the bootheel of the state. Hopefully, in five years, we’ll all be living in freedom — some of us with the freedom to love, some of us with the freedom to worship, and all of us free to pursue the best possible lives for ourselves.