Can one right crush another?
Culture wars rarely end; they just change venues.
The shift in public attitudes on same-sex marriage has been nothing less than breathtaking, with Illinois among the latest states to jump on the bandwagon.
Beginning June 1, Illinois will allow men to marry man and women to marry women, a bigger step than the current law allowing same-sex civil unions. Agree or disagree, the vast majority of the public accepts that same-sex marriage was approved by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law by the state's chief executive, Gov. Pat Quinn.
That's how the democratic process works, whatever the policy issue.
But it's one thing to accept a legislative outcome, and quite another to be compelled to participate against one's conscience in its implementation.
That's why some individuals who operate marriage-related businesses would like to opt out for religious reasons. Locally, Jim Walder, the owner of the TimberCreek Bed & Breakfast in Paxton, has vowed that "There will never be a gay marriage" at his venue. He's already involved in litigation over hosting civil-union ceremonies before the state's Human Rights Commission, and it's a virtual certainty that his outspoken stance will draw even more fire.
Ultimately, this will be an issue for the courts, eventually the U.S. Supreme Court, to resolve. There is no middle ground. The opposing sides can't even agree on exactly what the issue is.
Same-sex marriage proponents view access to businesses like Walder's as a civil rights issue; in their minds, being denied the opportunity to get married at TimberCreek is no different than for blacks to be denied service at a restaurant in segregated Mississippi.
People like Walder, however, interpret the issue as a matter of religious freedom, contending that their right to religious freedom under the First Amendment should protect them from being forced to host a ceremony they regard as a moral abomination.
Most people either don't have such deeply held opinions on the issue or are not personally involved. Some business operators take the position that they will provide services to whoever can pay for them. Others, a minority, operate their businesses within a strict moral code governed by their faith.
Hobby Lobby is, without question, a major corporation that operates in interstate commerce and employs thousands of people. At the same time, its founders operate the business on a biblical foundation. That's why they're resisting President Barack Obama's directive to provide free birth control to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.
In a similar vein, the Little Sisters of the Poor run a nursing home in Denver, a church-affiliated service that operates under the religious admonition to help the poor and needy. They, too, are resisting the Obamacare mandate to provide health insurance that includes free birth control to employees because the Catholic Church bars it.
It wasn't all that long ago that Quinn put Catholic Social Services out of the adoption business in Illinois. Agency managers said they could not, in good conscience, place adoptive children in the homes of same-sex partners because the church believes marriage should be limited to a man and a woman. Quinn said the organization can believe what it wants, but it couldn't receive state grant money if it refused to place children in same-sex households.
There are, however, plenty of precedents for faith-based objectors to be excused from participating in lawful activities. Members of religious groups, like the Amish, are not required to attend public schools. Doctors who object to abortion are not required to perform them.
It has long been our view that same-sex marriage is one of those issues where people ought to be able to respectfully disagree, that the passage of time ultimately will result in a social consensus that will serve our democratic ideals.
Homosexual marriage will be legal in Illinois in a little more than four months. But it's foolhardy to think that legislators' votes either can, or should, trump deeply held religious beliefs. If they did, what's the point of the Bill of Rights?
Litigants, however, are preparing for battle — and the fight will be long.