California’s Proposition 8 (Photo by Newscom)

Tomorrow, voters in California, Arizona, and Florida will decide whether to approve amendments to the constitutions in those states that would define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. The amendment in California would overturn the recent decision of the California Supreme Court to impose same-sex marriage by judicial fiat despite a democratic measure supported by 61% of California voters that defined marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. The amendments in Arizona and Florida would preempt judicial decisions redefining marriage in those states.

The citizens of California, Arizona, and Florida have very good reasons to be concerned about the security of their religious liberties once the traditional understanding of marriage is officially determined to be a form of unacceptable discrimination. Specifically, in states that redefine marriage to include same-sex unions, those who continue to believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman can expect to face three types of burdens:

  • First, institutions that support the traditional understanding of marriage may be denied access to several types of government benefits, and individuals who work in the public sector may face censorship, disciplinary action, and even loss of employment.
  • Second, those who support the traditional understanding of marriage will be subject to even greater civil liability under nondiscrimination laws that prohibit private discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status, and gender.
  • Third, the existence of nondiscrimination laws, combined with state administrative policies, can invite private forms of discrimination against religious individuals who believe that marriage involves a man and a woman and foster a climate of contempt for the public expression of their views.

Tomorrow, voters will confront questions about the nature and purposes of marriage itself. But the religious liberty harms associated with same-sex marriage must also be given full weight consistent with America’s long tradition of protection religious freedom as a fundamental human right. This tradition reflects the importance our society attaches to each person’s duty to honor his or her conscience and the role of religious freedom plays in securing the rights of all citizens—no matter their beliefs—to be free from undue coercion from the state. To the extent redefining marriage to include same-sex marriage threatens a robust commitment to religious liberty and the benefits that liberty secures to all society, the outcome of tomorrow’s marriage measures could have more significance than many people realize.