Sunday, August 26, 2012

Religious and personal freedom alike

In my first post in this series of posts about enacting marriage equality in New Zealand, I briefly mentioned religious liberty, and I’d like to expand on that a bit. One of the important things to know is that when New Zealand has marriage equality, religious freedom will not just be preserved, it will be expanded.

The right to freedom of expression is based on another essential freedom: Freedom of belief. This means we have the right to believe whatever we want to, and to talk about those beliefs. While this could mean anything, it certainly means the right to hold and express religious beliefs, whether aligned with a particular religion, no religion or even against religion. No one questions that.

We also believe that government should stay out of the way of religious belief—it shouldn’t try to tell people what they can and cannot believe. Government should be, basically, a neutral referee on religious matters, not taking a stand promoting a particular religion, but, rather, protecting the right of all people to have and express their beliefs. That’s what religious liberty means.

However, under current law, the government only protects the rights of those churches that condemn homosexuality or simply disapprove of loving same-gender couples marrying. When marriage equality is enacted, those same churches will have exactly the same rights: They’ll still be free to refuse to perform their religious wedding ceremonies for any couples they don’t approve of: Absolutely nothing with change for such churches.

But what about other churches, the ones that welcome GLBT people and want to perform religious wedding ceremonies for loving same-gender couples? Under current law, those churches’ religious liberty is forbidden by the government. Once marriage equality is enacted, their religious freedom will actually be expanded.

It’s also worth noting that New Zealand is a secular nation, and there’s no legal requirement for couples to have a religious wedding ceremony for their civil marriage to be valid. A huge number of New Zealand couples choose to be married somewhere other than a church, and many of them choose an entirely secular ceremony. What churches think is probably irrelevant to many of those couples.

All of this means that the New Zealand government is denying religious freedom to anyone other than those with the most restrictive views. When marriage equality is enacted, those with the most restrictive views will have exactly the same right to religious beliefs as they do now, but those who believe differently will, for the first time, have their religious freedom protected by the government.

So, religious liberty for all New Zealanders will actually be expanded when marriage equality is enacted. That means that all New Zealanders will have greater personal freedom in general. Who could be against that?

Previous posts in this series:

Marriage is not being ‘redefined’
Why civil unions aren’t enough
There is no ‘slippery slope’
The people DO decide

Next: Choice and the ‘gay gene’

Related: Conservative Christians can do right

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