A gay-marriage Pandora's box?

Today's topic: Pro-Proposition 8 ads have predicted that churches and schools may face more legal action and legislation restricting their rights if the initiative passes. Has this happened in other parts of the country? What would happen in California and, potentially, in the nation if Proposition 8 passes? Dean R. Broyles and Lorri L. Jean debate Proposition 8.

Gay rights and the 1st Amendment on a collision course
Point: Dean R. Broyles

Does same-sex marriage threaten your freedoms of speech and religion? Put slightly differently, does the coordinated legal agenda of those who oppose Proposition 8 have the potential to undermine core 1st Amendment rights? Today in California and across our nation, the homosexual legal agenda and 1st Amendment rights are on a violent collision course. Religious freedom is your right to believe, profess and practice your faith without government interference. Freedom of speech is your right as a citizen to express yourself without government interference, no matter how unpopular your views. Freedom of speech includes religious speech.

In a Proposition 8 debate panel I was a part of a few weeks ago, an ACLU attorney kept repeating the mantra that same-sex marriage poses no threat to religious freedom. However, a broad range of constitutional attorneys and scholars disagree and affirm that this "rights" clash is real. Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress calls it a pending "train wreck" or "Armageddon." In a chilling statement, Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown University law professor and thoughtful gay activist who helps draft federal legislation related to sexual orientation, said that when push comes to shove and religious- and sexual-liberty conflict, "I'm having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win."

The actual evidence is overwhelming that this conflict is not imagined but very real. Unfortunately, religious freedom and free speech are increasingly on the losing end of the equation. In 2005, Swedish minister Ake Green was sentenced to jail for preaching about homosexuality from the New Testament book of Romans (the conviction was eventually overturned). New Jersey's Ocean Grove Campground, a religious nonprofit, lost its tax-exempt status in 2007 because the organization refused to rent its facility to a lesbian couple for a civil commitment ceremony. In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston stopped doing adoption work rather than be coerced by the Massachusetts to place children with same-sex couples. A Massachusetts father was arrested in 2007 when he would not leave the school because the administration stubbornly refused to acknowledge his legal right to opt his child out of ongoing homosexual indoctrination occurring in a kindergarten class.

This year, two Christian doctors here in California were successfully sued for violating state civil rights law because they asserted their right of religious conscience by refusing to perform artificial insemination for a lesbian couple. And famously, just this month, a first-grade class went on a "field trip" to watch its lesbian teacher's wedding in San Francisco.

While legal protections for free speech and religious liberty have been a critical component of our nation's core civil rights protections for more than 200 years, laws granting special rights to those engaged in homosexual conduct are the legal "new kid on the block" -- and this new kid is proving to be an 800-pound gorilla. The danger here is that by embracing the latter (homosexual rights) with such vigor, we risk the grave consequences of decimating the former (the 1st Amendment). Perhaps this consequence is intended by the proponents of homosexual rights who oppose Proposition 8; perhaps not.

Regardless, the truth is that the conflict is very real. There will be clear winners and there will be clear losers in this zero-sum game. I submit that we should therefore be asking ourselves a more fundamental question: Which better serves the common good or general welfare of our nation -- free speech and religious freedom or gay rights? I stand firmly with our infinitely wise founding fathers on the side of the 1st Amendment.

Dean R. Broyles is president and chief counsel of the Western Center for Law and Policy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of religious freedom, parental rights and other civil liberties.

Gay-marriage Chicken Littles
Counterpoint: Lorri L. Jean

People are getting tired not only of the continuous attempts of the Yes on 8 forces to mislead and confuse voters, but of the downright lies that your side is telling, Dean. No matter how much you try to dress up those lies, they just don't pass the smell test.

Come on, Dean: Do you really think that people will believe your incredible claim that there is "ongoing homosexual indoctrination" in any kindergarten class, let alone that such indoctrination would be required if Proposition 8 fails? That's ridiculous. Proposition 8 has nothing to do with education, and you know it. All the voters have to do is read the language of the measure itself. Proposition 8 is about one thing and one thing only: eliminating rights and treating one group of people differently under the law. That's just wrong.

Proposition 8 would not have any impact at all on anyone's free exercise of religion any more than allowing interracial marriage does. Back when the California Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws, opponents of interracial marriage predicted exactly the same dire consequences that you warn of today. None of them came true.

Honestly, the Proposition 8 forces remind me of Chicken Little. An acorn hits her on the head and she runs around screaming that "the sky is falling," whipping up the other chickens into mass hysteria, which the unscrupulous fox uses to manipulate them for his own benefit. As a former farm girl, I know that California voters are much smarter than chickens. California voters recognize spurious claims and unfounded conclusions when they see them. That's why most people are going to vote no on Proposition 8 and why the forces of fairness, freedom and reason will prevail Nov. 4.

I'll give you this, Dean: We both agree that this conflict is very real. Indeed, this conflict is about whether our nation will live up to the wonderful principles on which we were founded: liberty and justice for all, not just for people who believe as you do, Dean, but for all. The real danger to religious freedom lies not in treating everyone equally under the law, but allowing any one religious belief to be imposed on everyone else. Thousands of religious leaders, churches and synagogues oppose Proposition 8 -- and they would never do so if their own religious freedom was endangered.

Contrary to how you view the world, Dean, civil rights are not a "zero-sum game." Our state is great enough to treat everyone fairly. When women won the right to vote, it didn't hurt male voters. When the law required that public school sports programs for girls be treated fairly, it didn't stop the boys from playing sports.

When my loving parent walked me down the aisle last month and I legally married the woman I have shared my life with for almost 17 years, it didn't hurt your marriage or anyone else's. It didn't take away any church's tax-exempt status, and it didn't have any impact whatsoever on curriculum in California public schools. Instead, it gave me the same rights, protections and dignity enjoyed by straight folks. That's only fair.

Lorri L. Jean is an attorney and chief executive of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center.