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Was the shot heard 'round the evangelical world fired June 24 in New York?

The passage of a same-sex marriage law by that state's Republican-controlled Senate sent a clear message, a leading religious liberty expert says.

That message: Religious conservatives who advocate traditional marriage must shift their focus to fighting for religious freedom.

"It's just a matter of time before it's possible to enact these bills in more and more states," said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia. "The greater the support, the less leverage anyone trying to get a religious liberty provision [will have]. The time to get protection for religious liberty in these bills is now, while they're still difficult for the supporters to enact."

Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, isn't ready to advocate such a drastic detour—at least not yet.

But as more states pass civil-union and same-sex marriage laws, he acknowledges a need for gay-marriage opponents to press for language in such laws that protects faith-based organizations.

"The religious-freedom consequence of these changes is increasingly recognized and increasingly seen as something that needs to have a focus of its own," he said.

In New York, in fact, "more expansive protections for religious organizations" helped win support from four Republicans who voted with the Democratic minority and put the bill over the top, The New York Times reported. Carlson-Thies complained, however, that lawmakers won the religious liberty exemptions at the expense of sticking with their moral convictions on traditional marriage.

Laycock said the New York law clearly protects churches and religious organizations from having to perform same-sex ...

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July 2011

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