The Supreme Court’s recent decision to extend the right of marriage to gay couples across the United States was anti-climatic. If some marriage traditionalists were shocked, they weren’t paying attention. The Supreme Court has been moving in this direction for two decades. The next two decades will reshape American society even more profoundly.
Gay marriage is certainly an important development, but its immediate impact will be limited to the gay couples who choose to marry; the institution of marriage will not dissolve, and society will not collapse. However, the ongoing debate about the rights of conscientious objectors to gay marriage will have a profound effect on American society.
Georgetown professor Nan Hunter (among many others) has observed that last week’s gay marriage ruling leaves difficult questions unanswered (start @ 18:36). Will churches, synagogues, and mosques that refuse to marry gay couples be forced to chose between their religious beliefs and their tax-exempt status? Can faith-based non profit organizations be forced to hire employees that do not adhere to the charity’s beliefs? If a religious college refuses to hire openly gay faculty members, will students at the college lose access to federal aid? While the answers to these questions are uncertain, the answers are certain to effect a broad spectrum of people in the United States.
Houses of worship, religious non-profits, and sectarian schools must start planning for the future. If the aforementioned institutions are forced to chose between their faith and their finances, only radical changes will keep them afloat. Churches will have to grow smaller and more modest, few employees will be paid. Non-profit entities will be forced to either reevaluate their beliefs, or reduce their economic footprint. Religious schools will survive by reducing the breadth of their curriculum, cutting costs to the bone, and hiking tuition.
Conservative activists and politicians must quickly realize that the battle over gay marriage has been lost, and the time to advocate unrealistic and thought provoking constitutional amendments has past. The next series of battles will determine what America looks like 20 years from now. If the debate is marked by bitter personal attacks, reconciliation will take years. But if Americans of all political and sexual stripes will fight for their cause fervently and kindly, it will be easier for each of us to love our neighbors – even when we profoundly disagree.