Democracy 101 event to focus on marriage rights, religious liberty

GVL / Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte

Alex Sixt

Same-sex marriage rights and their legalization in the U.S. have been a controversial topic. After same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015, many people are now questioning the boundaries of freedom to practice religion and laws that protect LGBT persons against discrimination. 

The Democracy 101 event “Whose Rights? Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty” will take place Wednesday, Jan. 31, in Room 2266 of the Kirkhof Center, and will run from noon to 1:30 p.m. Darren Walhof, professor in the political science department at Grand Valley State University, will be presenting at the program. 

The topic for this Democracy 101 program is inspired by the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015. The event will discuss the future of anti-discrimination laws aimed to help LGBT persons and how that will affect religious freedom in the U.S.  

Walhof will be providing background information about this topic. Walhof has been interested in religion and politics, and his current research studies how the meaning of religious liberty in the U.S. is changing, particularly in the commercial world.

During the program, he will talk about the Supreme Court cases that challenge state anti-discrimination laws and the right to religious liberty. Some of these cases center on same-sex weddings and the refusal of florists, venues and, most recently, a baker due to their personal religious beliefs. Walhof thinks these cases will help to shape how the courts will deal with these rights in the U.S. 

“They raise important and difficult questions about the purpose of anti-discrimination laws, what religious freedom means and how it can be protected,” he said via email. 

These cases and their questioning of the protection anti-discrimination laws can offer against religious rights may be confusing to some, and Walhof plans to have a discussion to help students understand their effects. 

“These are issues that affect all of us, so I think GVSU students would benefit from learning more about them,” Walhof said.

Melissa Baker-Boosamra, associate director of student life for civic engagement and assessment, as well as coordinator of the program, said there are resources outside this program for students to learn about these rights, such as the Division of Inclusion and Equity and the Milton E. Ford LGBT Center.

To further explore this issue, the program will start a discussion on what it will be like to face these conflicting rights in the future and how U.S. citizens will be able to handle them. Students will be welcome to participate in a faculty-led discussion to share their thoughts about these rights that continue to evolve. 

All who are interested in attending are welcome. The event is open to the public, and pizza will be provided. It is LIB 100- and 201-approved, and there is no fee to attend.