Freedom Of Religion And Same-Sex Marriage Can Co-Exist, Americans United Tells Supreme Court

Church-State Watchdog Group Urges High Court To Reject Claims That Marriage Equality Threatens Religious Liberty

Millions of gay and lesbian Americans should not be denied the right to marry because of false arguments raised about religious liberty, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Americans United today is filing a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court in a group of cases challenging the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage. Opponents of marriage equality have argued that legalization of these unions will spawn conflicts with religious liberty.

Americans United’s brief in Obergefell v. Hodges rejects this argument.

“That some people have religious objections to others’ exercise of a fundamental right or entitlement to equal treatment under the law has never been thought a valid reason for wholly denying any recognition of constitutional protections,” asserts the brief. “Moreover, many of the feared conflicts between religious liberty and recognition of a same-sex marriage right are chimerical.”

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said the brief plays an important role by debunking a common Religious Right assertion about marriage equality.

“The idea that the country must choose between religious freedom and marriage equality is a false dichotomy put forth by the Religious Right,” Lynn said. “We can have both, and I’m confident that we will.”

The brief also argues that U.S. law and court rulings provide a roadmap for protecting both the rights of religious opponents of same-sex marriage and gay couples who wish to marry.

Precisely because the wide diversity of religious views means that some people may have sincere religious objections to others’ exercise of fundamental rights or to equal treatment, the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, and many federal and state statutes provide mechanisms for protecting these important parallel interests,” the brief maintains. “Especially given this existing framework for addressing these competing values, the potential for conflict with religious beliefs is not a valid reason to withhold or delay the recognition of important rights and protections, including the right to marry.”

Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser added, “Allowing gay and lesbian people to marry those whom they love would pose no threat to religious freedom. Rather, it would vindicate fundamental values at the heart of our Constitution.”

The brief was drafted by Charles Rothfeld, Miriam R. Nemetz and Richard B. Katskee of the Supreme Court & Appellate practice group of the international law firm Mayer Brown LLP, with input from Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Luchenitser. 

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.