Speakers from ACLU and Liberty Institute discuss future of marriage equality

Speakers from ACLU and Liberty Institute discuss future of marriage equality

Speakers from ACLU and Liberty Institute discuss future of marriage equality
September 17
19:40 2015

Sarah Lagro | Staff Writer

@lagroski

Legal experts from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Liberty Institute were on campus Thursday to lecture about the future of marriage quality in the United States following the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage this summer. As part of its observance of Constitution Day, the UNT Honors College and the Department of Political Science hosted “The Futures of Marriage Equality and Religious Liberty: Perspectives on Obergefell v. Hodges.”

The speakers for the Constitution Day program were Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the ACLU in Texas, and Chelsey Youman, associate counsel for the Liberty Institute. Senior lecturer of Honors College Rafael Major mediated the speakers and helped host the event.

“It’s important for students to hear both sides. The immediate ruling is that gay marriage is now recognized and protected by law, but what exactly that means in terms of future lawsuits is still being determined,” Major said. “It’s pretty clear that lawsuits will come from and against county clerks who issue marriage licenses, bakers, florists and perhaps churches and other organizations that don’t recognize gay marriage as part of their religion.”

On June 26, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, who had married another man in Maryland but whose marriage was not recognized in his state of residence, Ohio. The Court held in a 5-4 decision that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Rebecca Robertson debates her views on marriage equality, arguing that Americans should learn to coexist on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Rebecca Robertson debates her views on marriage equality, arguing that Americans should learn to coexist on Thursday, Sept. 17. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

The Supreme Court noted that First Amendment protections are still in place for those who do not recognize same-sex marriage as part of their religious beliefs. Both speakers gave their views of the Court’s decision and what they believe will be its implications, and answered questions from the audience following their presentations.

Robertson was the first speaker and explained her stance on the Supreme Court ruling.

“The principle of equality is one of the highest priorities,” Robertson said. “It defines what it means to be an American and frames the Constitution.”

Robertson said America has always tried to live up to the standards of equality and Obergefell v. Hodges was not an exception. She said the court did not decide if gay marriage was godly or morally right, only that the treatment of John Obergefell and his husband was legal and equal.

“It is my job to fight for religious liberty every day,” Robertson said. “It is in my best interest to make sure the government doesn’t interfere with rights and religious freedoms. The final decision on this case does not interfere with any of those rights.”

Robertson ended her speech with the opinion that citizens are free to express their views and free to allot for change, but a law that conflicts with their beliefs is not an infringement of their First Amendment rights.

“People cannot pick and choose which laws to follow when it applies to their religion,” Robertson said.

Youman was last to speak and opened with her stance on the possible impact on religious liberty.

“The decision was kind of limited by the Supreme Court,” Youman said. “They didn’t account for the inevitable tension that would arise between the religious minority and America as a whole.”

Youman said that the Liberty Institute has taken over cases involving faith-based organizations that have received backlash regarding their definition of marriage. She said she did not see how gay marriage could affect religious liberty until witnessing attempts to silence the religious minority.

President Neal Smatresk opens the debate by wishing the students a Happy Constitution Day and encouraging them to continue learning on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

President Neal Smatresk opens the debate by wishing the students a Happy Constitution Day and encouraging them to continue learning on Thursday, Sept. 17. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

“The tension between the two sides should not exist but unfortunately it does,” Youman said. “We must learn to coexist with respect and tolerance from one another and not think of this issue as who’s right and who’s wrong.”

At the end of their speeches, both Robertson and Youman stood on stage and took questions from the audience. The most common questions regarded the actions of Kim Davis, the county clerk from Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

“It is the county clerk’s job to issue licenses and they cannot refuse service in such a manner,” Robertson said. “She should have deferred to another employee, instead she instructed them to refuse licenses as well and that is definitely not how things are done.”

The last comment came from Youman when she was asked about the government’s role in the Supreme Court’s decision.

“It should not be up to the government to decide what legitimate religious beliefs are or who is correct,” Youman said. “It’s not a trump card, it’s a balance that must be maintained.”

Featured Image: Students gather to listen to Rebecca Robertson and Chelsey Youman debate on Constitution Day in the auditorium on Thursday, Sept. 17. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photograher

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