Liberalism in politics is associated with nonauthoritarianism, the rule of law, constitutional government with limited powers, and the guarantee of civil and political liberties. A liberal society is tolerant of different religious, philosophical, and ethical doctrines and allows individuals to freely form and express their conscientious convictions and opinions on all matters and live according to their chosen purposes and life paths. In economic terms, liberalism is associated with an unplanned economy with free and competitive markets, as well as private ownership and control of productive resources. The basic institutions that are characteristic of a liberal society are constitutionalism and the rule of law; equal basic rights and liberties; formal equality of opportunity; free, competitive markets with private property in means of production; government’s obligation to provide public goods and a social minimum; and the fiduciary nature of political power to impartially provide for the public good. Liberals interpret these basic institutions differently. Classical liberalism regards extensive property rights and economic liberties as basic, while libertarians see all rights as property rights and as absolute. High liberalism regards economic liberties as subordinate to personal and political liberties and subject to regulation, with redistribution of income and wealth to mitigate gross inequalities and provide all citizens with adequate resources to guarantee the worth of their basic liberties and opportunities.
Susan Gluck Mezey
Opposition to same-sex marriage in the United States is frequently based on the religious belief that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. With most of the attention focused on wedding vendors, the clash between religious liberty and marriage equality has largely manifested itself in efforts by business owners, such as photographers, florists, caterers, and bakers, to deny their services to same-sex couples celebrating their marriages. Citing state antidiscrimination laws, the couples demand the owners treat them as they do their other customers. Owners of public accommodations (privately owned business open to the public) who object to facilitating the weddings of same-sex couples do so typically by asserting their personal religious beliefs as defenses when charged with violating such laws; they argue that they would view their participation (albeit indirect) in wedding ceremonies as endorsing same-sex marriage. As the lawsuits against them began to proliferate, the business owners asked the courts to shield them from liability for violating the laws prohibiting discrimination because of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation. They cited their First Amendment right to the free exercise of their religion and their right not to be compelled to speak, that is, to express a positive message about same-sex marriage. With conflicts between same-sex couples and owners of business establishments arising in a number of states, the focus of the nation’s attention was on a New Mexico photographer, a Washington State florist, and a Colorado baker, each of whom sought an exemption from their state’s antidiscrimination law to enable them to exercise their religious tenets against marriage equality. In these cases, the state human rights commissions and the state appellate courts ruled that the antidiscrimination laws outweighed the rights of the business owners to exercise their religious beliefs against marriage equality by refusing to play a role, no matter how limited, in a same-sex marriage ceremony. In June 2018, in Masterpiece Cakeshop, LTD. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the state’s antidiscrimination law that guaranteed equal treatment for same-sex couples in places of public accommodations but reversed the Commission’s ruling against the Colorado baker. In a narrow decision, the Court held that the Commission infringed on the baker’s First Amendment right to free exercise by uttering comments that, in the Court’s view, demonstrated hostility to his sincerely held religious beliefs. The ruling affirmed that society has a strong interest in protecting gay men and lesbians from harm as they engage in the marketplace as well as in respecting sincerely held religious beliefs.