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Just whose religious freedom is in jeopardy in marriage equality debate?

Just whose religious freedom is in jeopardy in marriage equality debate?

Ross Murray, director of religion, faith and values at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, suggests that it is not the religious freedom of Catholic bishops that is in jeopardy in the United States, but the freedom of the people who sit in their pews.


Writing for the Huffington Post, he cites numerous instances of bishops behaving aggressively toward those who disagree with them on LGBT issues. The bishops seem to be arguing that as Americans they must be free to follow their consciences, but that as Catholics, lay people have no such right.

The most common promulgators of this “religious liberty” argument are the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The most recent Roman Catholic bishop to warn of such “attacks” is Bishop Joseph Tyson, the Catholic bishop of Yakima, Washington. In a speech opposing Referendum 74, which will affirm the marriage equality law passed by elected officials earlier this year, Bishop Tyson says:

Recent attacks on churches, businesses and nonprofit organizations that express their conscientious objection to the redefinition of marriage underscore this danger. Those who uphold families based on the permanent, faithful relationship between a married man and woman as the best environment for raising children already have been accused of hate speech, and the right of religious institutions to freely practice their faith has been abridged.

This argument is not isolated. The Roman Catholic hierarchy has been using similar language in Minnesota, Maryland, Maine, New Jersey and California, just in recent weeks. The imagery is of a church under siege by outside LGBT forces, which are hell bent on destroying the faith of the church.

What is not being shared in these fear mongering speeches is that much of the public’s support for LGBT people actually comes from within the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholic people, the ones who go to church, who pray, who practice their faith on a daily basis — these are the ones who support marriage equality. It is faithful Catholics, by more than 70 percent, who believe that civil marriage should be lawful in America.

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