Will marriage ruling jeopardize critical private-public partnerships?

Ken Blackwell is Senior Fellow for Family Empowerment and Travis Weber, Esq. is Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Hill on May 4, 2015.

Last Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments on same-sex marriage showcased the need for a new federal law to protect private organizations that hold a view on marriage different from our growing and increasingly powerful federal government.

If the Court decides the same-sex marriage question in the affirmative (its written opinion is expected in late June), its decision will have rippling effects throughout society—especially for those whose moral views and consciences compel them to disagree with the idea that marriage can be something other than a relationship between one man and one woman.

One serious implication was on full view at the oral arguments, when Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was asked whether a college or university could have its tax-exempt status revoked if it opposed same-sex marriage. Representing the Obama administration’s views on this matter, Verrilli replied “I don’t deny that . . . it is going to be an issue.”


With this one response, the Obama administration has clearly broadcast the need for legislation like the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act (MARFA), which would ensure that the federal government cannot discriminate or take action against private entities because they act in accordance with a moral or religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. Under MARFA, the government is prohibited from discriminating in the areas of tax-exempt status, grants, contracts, licensing, certification, accreditation, or disbursement of benefits—among other areas—against a private entity simply because of that entity’s belief about marriage.

In effect, MARFA would prevent the government from disqualifying natural marriage supporters from doing work in the public space. MARFA would thus address the problem posed by the Obama Administration’s response during oral arguments, as it would prevent the government from revoking the tax exempt status of a college or university merely because the school believes marriage is solely between a man and a woman.

The need for such legislation has already been clearly shown. State-level officials have shut down longstanding adoption and foster care providers, severing private-public partnerships with nonprofits like Catholic Charities who have successfully served needy children for decades. The government has not cut off these private charities because of sub-standard social work, but simply because of their views on marriage. So far, they have been helpless in the face of government actors that wish to penalize them merely for not approving of same-sex marriage.

In the future, increasingly intrusive federal agencies are more likely to disqualify natural marriage supporters from doing work in the public space simply because of their views regarding marriage—not because of anything related to their social work. Indeed, it must be noted that many private religiously-motivated groups have long contributed to the public good, both in the United States and around the world.


For example, World Vision, an Evangelical Christian ministry, partners with the U.S. government to provide aid to many vulnerable people around the world. Without such private efforts, our humanitarian assistance efforts would likely be heavily handicapped. Will our government reject such aid and handicap its own assistance efforts merely because of a private organization’s views on marriage?

The poor and needy everywhere will be worse off if the Obama administration is able to use its view of marriage to coerce private entities to comply with its dictates.

Yet the danger of this happening is more of a reality after Tuesday’s oral arguments. Thus, the need for MARFA—which would protect private entities from being forced to adopt beliefs against their own merely to engage in the benevolent work they have done for years—has become even more pressing.

We do not have to personally agree with someone in order to support legal protections for his or her views. We might support legal protections for conscience objectors to a military draft, even though we might not hold the same conscientious objection. We should likewise be able to support the right of those who, having moral qualms about same-sex marriage, desire to not be forced to approve of such marriages by the government. Their legal right to dissent must be protected. Would we jeopardize all the great work done by private-public partnerships simply to achieve moral conformity—an undesirable end in itself—in public life?

The American public overwhelmingly supports legal protections for these dissenters. Recent nation-wide polling shows that 81 percent of Americans believe government should leave people free to follow their beliefs about marriage as they live their daily lives at work and in the way they run their businesses.

Neither should private entities partnering with the government for the public good be coerced into changing their views on marriage as a condition of that partnership. The regulatory state must not be allowed to intrude on private liberties and harm the diversity of the public square in the process. By prohibiting government actors from disqualifying natural marriage supporters from doing work in the public space, MARFA would ensure this does not happen. In the face of the Obama Administration’s recently announced policy position on this issue, this law seems all the more necessary.