When the legalization of same-sex marriage takes effect in New York on July 24, one in nine Americans will live in places where gay couples can marry with the imprimatur of the state. For the estimated 42,600 same-sex couples in New York, the new law brings changes to their state taxes and healthcare benefits, as well as their access to adoption and inheritance laws. But what will it mean for churches and ministries in the state, or for Christian professionals and business owners who may not be comfortable offering their services to same-sex couples for moral and religious reasons?
Republican state senators negotiated a provision to protect churches, parachurch ministries, and religious nonprofits, as well as their clergy and employees, from lawsuits or state penalties if they should refuse to provide their services or facilities for same-sex ceremonies. They also won inclusion of a "poison pill," so that a court decision striking the religious conscience provision would invalidate the entire law.
Yet this does not mean that the new law will have no consequences for churches and believers who object to gay marriage. When sexual liberty and religious liberty are pitted against one another, says the Alliance Defense Fund's Austin R. Nimocks, the elevation of one always diminishes the other.
The religious liberties and conscience rights of individual professionals and business owners, Nimocks says, are in particular peril. Since they do not fall beneath the "religious umbrella" the law creates, wedding planners or florists or clothiers who decline to offer their services to same-sex couples may face lawsuits or other forms of government pressure. Marriage counselors and adoption attorneys, if they are not employees of a religious group, also could be accused of illegal discrimination if they do not serve gay couples.
Even those beneath the "religious umbrella" may be less protected than they would like to believe. In spite of the conscience provision, there are "huge gaping holes" in the language of the law, says Nimocks. Ultimately, the long-term consequences of the law are unknown. Yet gay couples will take offense if they are not offered the same services traditional couples receive, and the same well-funded activists who pushed the same-sex marriage bill into law will continue to make their case in the courts and in the statehouses.
(Editor's note: After publication of the above article, Austin Nimcocks of the Alliance Defense Fund sought to clarify his comments regarding sexual liberty and religious liberty: "What we're seeing is a clash between sexual liberty and religious liberty, and the conflict is irreconcilable. Consequently, the elevation of sexual liberty has a diminishing effect upon religious freedom. The opposite is not true. First Amendment guarantees of religious liberty and rights of conscience threaten no one else's freedom.")
Summer is the season for conventions and councils and annual meetings of the various Christian denominations in the United States. Many report decline. Yet Robert Duncan, Primate of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), reported quite the opposite in his State of the Church address on June 21 in Long Beach, Calif.
As The Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada became increasingly liberal in their theology, distressed churches and dioceses disaffiliated and sought the care of Anglican Provinces in other parts of the world. ACNA was officially constituted only two years ago, and yet it serves 100,000 Anglicans in nearly 1,000 congregations across the United States and Canada.
In its first 18 months (the most recent data reaches to six months ago), the ACNA added nearly 250 churches, a 34 percent increase; 130 of the new churches were church plants. The number of people baptized in the ACNA over the age of 16 is nearly equal to the number under 16. That the ACNA is reaching so many adolescents and adults who have never known Christ, said Duncan, is "one sign among many that something quite extraordinary is unfolding."