The Unintended Consequences of Gay Marriage

America’s position on homosexual activity has radically changed over the past few decades. Fifty years ago, every state criminalized homosexual acts under “sodomy laws.” As recently as 1986, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of such laws. In 2003 there were still 13 states that criminalized homosexual acts (though the laws were rarely enforced). That year, however, the Supreme Court ruled these laws unconstitutional. Today, laws are used to protect rather than prohibit homosexual activities.
The supreme courts in California and Connecticut are about to decide whether same-sex couples have a right to marry in those states. Massachusetts already granted homosexuals that right. Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire all have civil unions, which are similar to marriage, but activists in those states are already pointing to deficiencies and pushing for full recognition of gay marriage. Regardless of what it is called, legal sanctioning of homosexual relationships creates a host of unintended consequences and constitutes a serious threat to religious liberty.
Consider what happened in Massachusetts in 2004: Justices of the peace who refused to preside over same-sex unions due to moral or religious objections were summarily fired. Since same-sex unions were entitled to be treated the same as traditional marriages, this refusal was discrimination and a firing offense.
What about a priest or minister who similarly refuses to preside at such ceremonies? Obviously the state can’t fire such people, but it is easy to foresee other sanctions — such as loss of tax benefits — being imposed on churches. After all, if gay marriage truly is no different from traditional marriage, by what justification can the government give preferential treatment to an entity that discriminates?
Just last year, two women filed a complaint in New Jersey because they were denied use of a pavilion for their civil union ceremony. The pavilion was owned by a Methodist ministry. It had been rented out for marriages, but the ministry refused to rent it for civil unions because it is a religious structure, and civil unions are not recognized in the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline. Due to the ministry’s refusal to rent it for the lesbian ceremony, New Jersey revoked its tax-free status.
The Des Moines Human Rights Commission found the local Young Men’s Christian Association in violation of public accommodation laws because it refused to extend “family membership” privileges to a lesbian couple that had entered a civil union in Vermont. Accordingly, the city forced the YMCA to recognize gay and lesbian unions as “families” for membership purposes, or lose over $100,000 in government support.
Perhaps the most notorious example of a state forcing its view on a church agency comes from Massachusetts, where Boston Catholic Charities ran an adoption agency that had been placing children with families for over 100 years. In 2006, Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley announced that the agency would abandon its founding mission rather than submit to a state law requiring it to place children with homosexual couples. (A Vatican document from 2003 described gay adoptions as ”gravely immoral.”)
The legal analysis in these cases is really pretty simple: If homosexual marriages or civil unions are the equivalent of traditional marriages, you can’t discriminate. If you do, at the very least you put your government benefits at risk. This is the same rationale that was used by the Supreme Court in 1983 to uphold stripping Bob Jones University of its tax-exempt status due to its racial policies.
A potentially greater threat is that government agencies will try to change church teachings. It is already happening in other nations. The Catholic Church, for instance, teaches that homosexual inclination is a “tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary, Canada, was investigated by the Alberta Human Rights Commission for doing little more than writing about this teaching in a newspaper column. Åke Green, pastor of a Pentacostalist church in Sweden, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to a month in prison for a sermon that insulted homosexuals.
It may seem that legal recognition of civil unions or gay marriages is a trivial matter and one that respects the basic dignity of gay people. The unintended legal consequences that flow from such recognition, however, present a serious threat to religious liberty. Courts and legislatures need to consider these consequences before committing the nation to a policy with so many potential pitfalls.

Ronald J. Rychlak


Ronald J. Rychlak is the associate dean and MDLA Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He is the author of Hitler, the War, and the Pope (Revised and Expanded) (2010) and Righteous Gentiles (2005).

  • Carlos Caso-Rosendi

    What if an American gay man (for example) marries a foreigner (also a man) and wants to extend his American citizenship to him?

    Has that happened yet? It seems to me that would be a way to circumvent immigration restrictions. The law already allows an American, either man or woman, to extend his or her citizenship to a foreigner by marriage. The extension of that right would make it very easy for individuals to “sell” legal entry into the country.

    Just a thought.

  • Dave in NOLA

    The reason gay marriage will never become the law of the land (in my humble opinion) is a financial one, not a legal or moral issue. The Federal government simply cannot allow it because of the loopholes it would create in the tax code. Here is what I mean:

    If you allow two men to marry each other and you allow two women to marry each other, how can you legitimately deny the right to other fringe groups? (Brothers and sisters who want to marry, people who want to marry their pets, etc…) I know it sounds specious, but under equal protection you would have to allow everything. This would create an abundance of new tax avoidance strategies. For example:

    Let’s say my father was a billionaire. When he died, his wealth transferred to my mother automatically without triggering an estate tax because she was his spouse. With the marriage-free-for-all amendment in place, I could then marry my aging mother and when she dies, my father’s wealth would transfer to ME without triggering an estate tax because I was her spouse. Thus, wealth could be transfered from generation to generation without the Feds getting their cut. We all know this would NEVER be allowed.

    The gay marriage push would create a bevy of tax dodges like the one mentioned above. The Feds and the Left make a lot of noise about equality, etc… but when it comes down to money, you know which side they’re on.

  • Salamon

    Interesting. So churches want to enjoy the money they steal from the taxpayers, but they don’t want to be regulated by politicians. Well, they should have thought about it before making a contract with the devil.

  • James

    Someone wrote: Interesting. So churches want to enjoy the money they steal from the taxpayers, but they don’t want to be regulated by politicians. Well, they should have thought about it before making a contract with the devil.

    Stealing from the taxpayers, excuse me? When is a tax exempt status stealing? No more stealing than the free services churhes provide to society I suppose.

    But, if you insist,lets drop the tax exempt status for churches. There goes separation of church and state. With the churches as taxpayers they would have full rights to influence the polital process.

    Lets see, lobbyists perhaps? A bishop in the white house…Hummmmm.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • Loyolalaw98

    What many Roman Catholics in the United States fail to understand is that when a Catholic priest in the USA performs a marriage ceremony he is acting BOTH as a priest performing a sacrament and an “agent of the state” as the state views his “witnessing” of the vows as sufficient for civil union.

    Logically, given the activist nature of much of our judiciary, this dual role will be challenged legally.

    I would opt for the model based on the Code Napoleon found in much of Catholic Europe. Priests perform sacraments without the interference of the state, and citizens register their marriages with the government before a civil official. It’s clean – rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto G*d what is G*d’s.

  • Andy

    Mr. Rychlak. Maybe I’m more paranoid, but I’m not convinced that these consequences are “unintended” at all. I think there’s an ongoing project to eliminate Catholic (and other Christian) thought from the public arena altogether.

    Then, when we Catholics can no longer satisfy charitable goals according to their standards, they’ll ask why we aren’t doing anything.

  • Jeff Miller

    The homosexual lobby has intended these conscequences from the beginning and is just part of their agenda to force homosexual rights onto everyone.

    There was also the very recent case of a photographer who refused to shoot a lesbian wedding and was finded by the human rights commitee in his state.

  • Charlotte

    Marriage is a basic civil right that should be attainable by all Americans if they choose. For the truth about gay marriage check out our trailer. Produced to educate & defuse the controversy it has a way of opening closed minds & provides some sanity on the issue:

  • John Jakubczyk


    Any competent adult unimpeded by any legal impediments can get married. Indeed a minor can get married with permission of the parents or legal guardians, again consistent with state law. The reason for state involvement has to do primarily with the transfer and/or interest in property as well as the protection and support of the children born from such union.

    However two persons of the same sex cannot marry the other. Such an effort defies the definition of the word.

    Finally, marriage is not simply a civil right, although it is generally characterized as such along with those rights which are the the province of citizens of the state. Marriage reflects the basic building block of a society and therefore the the means for the continuation of the race. Reducing the concept of marriage to some superficial arrangement between anyone will act to destroy it for a generation.

    fortunately it is basic to the survival of the species and will also survive this current insanity.

  • Jorge

    Can we please stop this nonsense about people who want to marry their pets, plants, and other non-human beings that can’t be in a consensual relationship? Gay men and women are our brothers and sisters, teachers, doctors and librarians. There are MILLIONS of them and they want to marry the PEOPLE they fall in love with.

    Where are all these people who want to marry trees and dogs? I have never met one, have not read about or seen one on TV. They don’t exist. You’ve made them up to play on people’s fears of losing their religious rights. Shame on you for that.

  • Jorge

    Dear John,

    Do you think that the purpose of marriage is solely the continuation of the human race? If so, do you support limiting marriage only to fertile heterosexual couples? I do not understand your logic.

  • Andy

    I think statements about wanting to marry an animal or a tree are a bit over the top, but the recent crisis in Texas begs some serious questions (age of consent not withstanding).

    If a country is willing to tolerate homosexual marriages, reducing the sublime idea of marriage to simply a contract between two individuals, then we don’t have a leg to stand on when enforcing polygamy. If any two people in love can marry, why not three? Four? Two dozen?

    Marriage is marriage; we can’t redefine it just to meet our whim.

  • Leslie

    Polygamy? Texas passed a Constitutional amendment in 2005 banning marriage for homosexuals. The FLDS polygamist community existed long before that law and still does.

    Maybe the church should focus on laws that actually protect marriage (ban divorce, jail polygamists, enforce consent, custody and support laws)

    Survival of the species? Reproduction does not require a marriage license from either the church or the state. Marriage for everyone could be abolished today and people would continue to have children – probably even more than they do with marriage.

    If a church does not want to be governed by the civil law in America, it need only refuse all tax-payer money, conduct all its “business” in private and shed its tax-exempt status.

    The Methodist church in New Jersey tried to do that. It declared the pavillion was not church property. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  • R.C.

    The person who gaped and “wowed” at the idea of people marrying animals, sisters, parents, et cetera, obviously doesn’t keep up with the news.

    Polygamist groups are already pressing this as a right in the American court system, basing their claim on jurisprudence related to gay marriage.

    In Germany, I think it was, it’s a brother-sister “team” that’s already taken it to court demanding they be allowed to marry.

    Wherever large numbers of Muslim immigrants from countries with Arab tribal traditions are found, it’s all about young girls below the Western age of consent marrying first-cousins and uncles who’re often double the age of their child brides.

    And though I don’t know of it entering the court system yet, check every so often for news stories of the eye-roll-worthy dalliances with farm animals, vegetation…. If bestiality is not already in a lawsuit, only a Pollyanna wouldn’t expect it in a decade or so.

    Yes, these notions are absurd, but no, sadly, there’s no “Wow” about it. Human beings go off the rails and do strange things. And then they want everyone else to treat it as normal.

    Sorry to sound like “Morpheus,” but: Welcome to the real world.

  • Marjorie Campbell

    Jorge wrote: There are MILLIONS of them and they want to marry the PEOPLE they fall in love with.

    I have a brief response to Jorge. There may well be millions of people with same-sex attraction who wish to “marry” each other. But this alone does not compel extending the civil benefits of marriage. For example, that there are many people who would like to wed non-US citizens in order to extend the benefits of citizenship to them or that there are many people who would like to wed more than one person at a time (including both polygamists and bigender people) does not compel the state to set policy simply to respond to these sometimes worthy and often sympathetic interests. Civil marriage, historically, was not a benefit designed to recognize “love” or “interpersonal pleasure” as much as a legal status designed to create, favor and protect the one man-one woman family unit as the best vehicle for potential bearing of and raising children. As we can see in the universally agreed negative effects of divorce upon children, we tamper with the definition of marriage – and family – at the risk of children’s healthiest development. It is that context, I think, that should drive discussion of “marriage”. Marriage between persons of same-sex attraction creates troubling complications with respect to the conceiving and raising of children whose need for certainty and stability are often subjugated to the often competing desires of the adults who have participated in the conception, birth and/or upbringing of a child. Just how many parents, for example, can have equal authority in the raising of a single child before that child’s development is gravely impacted? These are the sorts of social experiments which lead many of us to conclude that we should not tamper with the basic formula for civil marriage – a formula that gives governmental preference for the sake of children to a one-man and one-woman family unit.

  • R.C.

    Is there any reason that persons should be labeled according to their temptations?

    That, after all, is what we do when we call a man “gay” or a woman “lesbian”: We define their identity according to the fact that they are tempted to have sexual relations with a same gendered person.

    I suppose we do similiarly if we call a person an “alcoholic.” But why don’t we call people “taxcheatuals?” Or “gossipians?” And if we’re to limit it to sexual proclivities (why?) then I suppose most men are adulterosexuals and masturbatosexuals and a lot of folks are philanderosexuals to boot.

    Sure, it’s cumbersome to say, “people who are tempted to illicit sexual relations, specifically of the homosexual variety.”

    But perhaps “cumbersome” is better than “inaccurate?” For with current usage, the Church appears nonsensically to say that a sin to be gay and that it’s no sin to be gay, all at once!

    We must differentiate between: (a.) Having the tendencies (not a sin but a temptation) and (b.) Homosexual genital activity (a sin). And the Church is all about loving and accepting the former while identifying the spiritually cancerous impact of the latter.

    But modern language does its best to obscure this distinction. Let’s avoid that pitfall.

    Better the cumbersome accuracy of calling temptation what it is, than the brevity which identifies a child of God, not by his/her best gifts, but by his/her toughest temptations.

  • W. Pat Cunningham

    Impartial surveys and science tells us that male homosexual conduct is inherently promiscuous. Therefore it is a “burden” on such men to expect them to vow fidelity to another man. That is of the essence of marriage, is it not?

  • Marjorie Cambpell

    Pat, I observe that most of the community of men seeking marriage based on same-sex attraction does not anticipates monogamy as a primary attribute of marriage. It is a mistaken notion among people who “support” same-sex marriage that this community seeks “traditional” monogamous marriage. Largely, this community separates the notion of legal, lifelong civil commitment from sexual fidelity. If you browse gay literature offered through Amazon, or read web postings “The M Word (Monogamy)” (contact me if you want the URL, I think you will get the drift of the community that “monogamy” is not a critical element of “marriage”. Certainly, my own gay male friends here in San Francisco do not equate civil marriage with monogamy. This is yet another reason I think particularly women need to oppose the extension of civil marriage – because it is likely to launch a redefinition of civil marriage in a range of ways that will harm women.

  • Elizabeth Scalia

    Actually, I don’t think marriage is a “basic civil “right” any more than ordination is a “right.”

    But…I have always thought along the lines subscribted to by Loyolalaw. The only way to prevent gay marriage laws from eventually lawsuiting the churches out of existence is to truly separate the legal function from the sacramental. Let marriage be first a legal function of the state, then a sacramental one. If it must come to that.

  • James, AZ

    “It may seem that legal recognition of civil unions or gay marriages is a trivial matter and one that respects the basic dignity of gay people.” . . .

    It saddens me deeply that the government recognizes the basic dignity of persons so much better than my own church. Bigotry is bigotry on any level.

  • Gene Fadness

    I want to second what Marjorie has written. I struggle with same-sex attraction and during a past period in my life when I was acting on those attractions, I met many gay couples. Almost all of them believed in “open” relationships. They could play around with other men as long as they told each other about it. Or they would have sex together with other men involved. I met many couples over the years and can count on one hand those who said they were totally monogamous.
    I appreciate very much the Catholic teaching on marriage and on same-sex attraction. It has been a great help to me in overcoming same-sex activity, which was damaging to me in so many ways.

  • Michaelyi

    Leslie wrote: Maybe the church should focus on laws that actually protect marriage (ban divorce, jail polygamists, enforce consent, custody and support laws)

    Those last two in the list, “custody and support laws,” don’t “protect marriage” at all. Worse, they encourage many people — most of whom are women — to abandon marriages, break up families, and hold children for ransom.

    An end to unilateral divorce (misleadingly called “no fault” to hide the fact that the divorce is the filer’s fault) would improve the health of the institution of marriage. Notice that the enthusiasm for marriage from homosexuals has only occurred since divorce became commonplace.

  • JD51

    If the concept of marriage is being threatened, it’s definitely not the fault of the idea of gay marriage. If anything, the idea of two people sharing life together is an endorsement of marriage. The problems with marriage today are usually confined to the specific marriage itself. A couple’s marriage would not be threatened by a gay couple next door, unless the man in the hetero marriage is gay. Other than that, you’d have to look a little closer to home to find out why your marriage is a failure or is experiencing problems. For the Catholic church or the evangelicals to blame gays for the problems their members are having in their own marriages is misguided at best and will do little to resolve the real issue. The Catholic church should try a little honesty for a change and just admit that the only reason they are against gay marriage is because of scripture or their interpretation of scripture instead of using the concept as a scapegoat for all of traditional marriages’ problems. There are myriad reasons for problems in a marriage and I can safely say that a gay couple somewhere deciding to marry isn’t one of them.

  • James Carmine

    You forgot to mention that the APA, American Psychiatric Association, also harbors much of the credit for the advance of the myth of the happy homosexual. Under political duress, they changed a diagnosis of homosexuality as a mental illness to normal behaviour and turned homo-phobia into a mental illness instead. So long as we, as Catholics, continue to abdicate moral responsibility and cede it to the psychologists we will continue to lose moral ground. By and large, clinical psychology is really only pseudo-science. They provide most of the rationale for much of the contemporary moral degredation of the individual.

  • Ronny

    Groups/people are given freedom to be who they are. Then almost all of these groups think it’s okay to use this
    freedom to take away the freedom of others. Wake the F up! The sad thing
    is: people will read this and not even realize they do it.

  • lgbt

    Lesbian Activist’s Surprisingly Candid Speech: Gay Marriage Fight Is a ‘Lie’ to Destroy Marriage