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GVSU professor lectures on marriage rights, religious liberty

February 07, 2018

GVSU professor lectures on marriage rights, religious liberty

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S. For many members of the LGBTQ community, this ruling was considered a long-needed, progressive step. However, the U.S. still doesn’t have a federal law protecting LGBTQ individuals from discrimination. According to professor Darren Walhof of Grand Valley State University’s political science department, this has created problems on a grand scale.

Walhof spoke Wednesday, Jan. 31, in the Kirkhof Center for the event “Democracy 101: Whose Rights? Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty,” which was held in a room of about 40 people. Walhof discussed two points: anti-discrimination laws and religious laws. More specifically, he  narrowed in on a court case about a wedding cake to guide his talk. 

The Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case has been gaining national attention as the final rulings are waiting to be heard. Same-sex couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins entered the shop looking to get a cake for their wedding. At the time, prior to 2015, Colorado did not recognize same-sex marriages. The owner of the shop, Jack Phillips, was therefore allowed to deny the couple a cake, stating that it was against his religious beliefs to do so.

This created a large controversy, Walhof explained. Many people believed this was wrong of Phillips to do. On the other hand, Walhof said, others supported Phillips' decision because he believed it would be against his religion to make the cake.

“Any law that targets a religion, like saying 'no mosques' in a certain city, is easy for courts to strike down immediately,” Walhof said. “Harder cases’ actions flow from religious convictions.”

Walhof explained that some cases are clearly against the law. For example, if someone’s religion required the harm of another person, that belief would not be legally defensible. But, in the Phillips case, it is much more complicated, Walhof said. 

However, Colorado also did not have the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) at the time of the incident either, which would have protected Phillips' religious rights. Therefore, Phillips' lawyers have said that his art is an expression and it is against the First Amendment to make him express his cakes in a certain way. 

Students followed along with the presentation, but there seemed to be a general hint of confusion.

“There need to be clearer laws,” said GVSU student Jacob Kucinski. “We had to listen to a professional for an hour to understand all the complications of this case.” 

Kucinski’s reaction mirrored that of other students. Several hands went up during the Q&A segment. Students asked about how the case could have gone to the Supreme Court, as Walhof explained the RFRA and anti-discrimination laws in more detail. Walhof ended the discussion with his thoughts about a free and open market. 

“Civil discourse ensures access to the market and protects personal dignity from humiliation,” Walhof said. 

The next Democracy 101 event, “Disentangling From the U.S.’ Argument Culture: Keeping It Real About the ‘Sticking Points,’” will take place Wednesday, Feb. 14, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center, Room 2266. 

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