Recently, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case of Jack Phillips, a Christian baker who declined to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. With the recent same-sex marriage legislation that has been passed in Australia, there’s a lot we can learn from the arguments made during the hearing.
The first: Mutual tolerance is essential in a free society
It is natural that there be many different beliefs in a society. As a developed society, we should be able to function in harmony with our neighbours. As Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said during the hearing:
Tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual.
Supporters of same-sex marriage want tolerance of their beliefs, yet they refuse to tolerate the beliefs of those who disagree with them. It is important to distinguish the difference between tolerance and acceptance of beliefs; the government can require tolerance, but cannot force acceptance.
Which brings us to the other important point: Orthodoxy cannot be determined by the state.
Forcing an individual to do something that violates their beliefs is enforcing a belief system on that person. The state’s role in a civil society is not to tell people what to believe, but rather, to ensure the freedom to practice their beliefs. It is only in primitive societies where the beliefs of the stronger are forced on those with less power.
As commentator Emilie Kao said about the case:
The Supreme Court should uphold the rights of all Americans to work according to their religious beliefs and to be free from government intrusion that would force them to speak messages in violation of their deeply held beliefs.
The opposition of same-sex marriage is not comparable to issues of racism where the government needs to interfere. It is based in sincerely held religious beliefs, and is a rejection of a practice, not rejection of individuals. That is why is it vital that there are protections in place for freedom of religion when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage in Australia.