Should the state be in the business of marriage, or is marriage inherently a religious union that should be performed solely by religious groups? Will the religious exemptions to recent same-sex marriage laws influence their viability in the long run? Last week, The New York Times posted a debate on its website, in which five public figures—scholars and writers—argue about the ways in which the religion and marriage debate draws out perennial questions about the appropriate relationship between religion and the state. Kevin Noble Maillard, a professor of law at Syracuse University, organized the debate.
Robin Fretwell Wilson, professor of law at Washington and Lee University, argues that the exemptions for religious groups included in New York’s recent approval of same-sex marriage are necessary to protect constitutional religious liberty. Giving examples of states where religious groups have lost government funding or been sued by same-sex couples for discrimination, she contends that the exemptions are evidence of conflicting interests and rights in a diverse society. She writes:
Far from hollowing out the victory for gay marriage advocates, religious exemptions shifted the debate from whether to embrace marriage equality to how to balance that good with other goods in society. Religious liberty protections constitute a middle path that allow policymakers to recognize two compelling interests in a plural democratic society.
Edward Stein, the vice dean and a professor of law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, instead argues that religious groups should not be involved in the legal sanction of certain relationships at all. Whether state-sanctioned relationships take the form of civil unions or “marriages,” he contends that religious blessings should be entirely separate from the state’s prerogative to bestow certain benefits on couples.
Read the entire debate here.