"It's not an either-or," said Dalton, whose team focuses on marriage and family issues, including the Tulsa County clerk who is a defendant in the Oklahoma case. "We will continue to advocate for marriage between one man and one woman as the building block of society. But in cases where a state has chosen to redefine its marriage laws, we support the active inclusion of robust religious liberty protections in pending legislation."
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also opposes the strategy of abandoning opposition to same-sex marriage laws and instead focusing on "let's just get what we can get" on religious freedom protections.
"I think it would be a mistake to abandon the fight for the definition of marriage. I think we should do both. One needn't choose one or the other," he said. "The historical parallel would be the prolife movement, which includes both a constant articulation of why we should protect unborn children and women harmed by abortion, while at the same time, working for conscience protection for prolife conviction.
"So while we're fighting for religious liberty, we're articulating why we believe marriage is significant and important. And while we're fighting for marriage, we're articulating why the religious liberty concerns that inevitably come from these discussions are significant," he said. "We do both, and we don't abandon or marginalize either plank."
"Same-sex marriage is not inevitable in the court system," said Dalton. "The only current federal appeals court that stands on this issue—the Eighth Circuit's 2006 decision upholding Nebraska's marriage laws—has ruled that a state can constitutionally define marriage." He notes that the Ninth Circuit came to a different conclusion, but its decision was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court last year in Perry v. Brown. "Furthermore, last year's Supreme Court decision in Windsor clearly affirms the right of each state to define its own marriage policy in this arena," he said.
Carlson-Thies says exchanging opposition of same-sex marriage laws for religious protection isn't a trade-off, but reading the signs of the times and doing something about it.
"You don't want to tell people [the definition of marriage] doesn't matter, because it does matter. That weighs heavily on people," he said. But if same-sex marriage legalization is unavoidable in certain states, then conservative Christians need to build space where their view of truth can still be testified to and exemplified, he said. "It is the reality of living in a broken world."