Religious Liberty Means Religious Privilege
So far two bakeries have faced legal challenges to their refusal to make wedding cakes for same-sex weddings. Opponents of same-sex marriage see these cases as the start of a fast approaching widespread persecution. Personally, I don’t see how the act of baking a cake for a wedding implies approval of that wedding, but the owners of these bakers believe it would be a violation of conscience to participate in a same-sex wedding, even remotely by way of making the wedding cake, so let’s go with their complaints for the sake of argument.
Let’s say that, if the owners of these bakeries are legally forced to provide same-sex wedding cakes, they would be in a position of having to choose between violating their conscience and closing down their business. Would this situation qualify as an offense against religious liberty? I would say yes, but that in and of itself is not necessarily an intolerable state of affairs. If a bakery refused, the grounds of the owner’s religious beliefs, to make a wedding cake for an interracial couple, no doubt that this owner would be met with a lawsuit. And well he should, I think. This lawsuit and its consequences would also be an infringement of religious liberty, but not one most opponents of same-sex marriage would protest.
The fact is not every infringement of religious liberty is morally problematic. Sometimes religious liberty ought to be curtailed. Sometimes justice demands it. Religious liberty can never be absolute, and so those whose religious liberty is culturally and legally recognized benefit from their beliefs being privileged by society. Christians in the United States (and elsewhere) are discovering what it means that their religious beliefs no longer hold social dominance sufficient to give them legal privilege. Going forward, they will have to discern which limitations of their freedom are worth fighting and which are tolerable costs of living in a pluralistic society.