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Reply to George: XIII. Marriage Equality Threatens Religious Freedom

Rob Tisinai

April 2nd, 2011

[This post is part of a series analyzing Robert George's widely-read article, "What is Marriage", which appeared on pages 245-286 of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. You can view all posts in the series here.]

Pages 263-265: In which George accidentally suggests the First Amendment is a threat to religious freedom.

A digression

I’m going to put Robert George on hold for a moment. Instead, I’ll talk about Owen and Eunice Johns, the latest “victims” of homofascist intolerance of religion.  NOM and other anti-gays have taken up their cause.  Here’s the news report:

A Pentecostal Christian couple have lost their high court claim that they were discriminated against by a local authority because they insisted on their right to tell young foster children that homosexuality is morally wrong.

Eunice and Owen Johns, who are in their sixties and have fostered children in the past, claimed they were being discriminated against by Derby city council because of their Christian beliefs, after they told a social worker they could not tell a child a “homosexual lifestyle” was acceptable. The couple had hoped to foster five- to 10-year-olds.

First, note the couple is British. Examples from other countries simply don’t count in the US. America has its own body of law around religious freedom. When our American opponents insist on citing foreign cases, they’re simply demonstrating the dearth of evidence about what’s happening in the US.  Never forget that.

However, let’s pretend this is an American case. Would it represent some sort of new assault on religious freedom?

No.

The issue here isn’t about religious freedom. It’s not about discrimination against one group or another. It’s about the welfare of the child. The only issue, for me, is this:  

Will it harm children to place them with a couple who will openly condemn homosexuality?

See, the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom, but it’s doesn’t necessarily give you the right to do things that would otherwise be illegal. You know, like human sacrifice. Or putting children at risk.

This has been tested by cases involving Christian Scientists. McKown v. Lundman was a landmark case:

The mother of a young boy who died from untreated diabetes, and the Christian Science practitioners who administered prayer rather than insulin as the 11-year-old slipped into a coma, failed today to persuade the Supreme Court to hear their appeal of a $1.5 million damage judgment won in a lawsuit by the boy’s father.

The appeal, from a 1995 ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, presented the case as an urgent issue of religious freedom, with an importance to Christian Scientists that “can scarcely be overstated,” according to the petition filed on behalf of four people: the mother, her son’s stepfather, the Christian Science practitioner who prayed from his own home and the Christian Science nurse who came to the family’s house and kept detailed notes of the boy’s rapidly deteriorating condition without summoning outside help. The boy’s parents were divorced.

In refusing to hear the appeal, the US Supreme Court held up the state court’s decision, which said:

Although one is free to believe what one will, religious freedom ends when one’s conduct offends the law by, for example, endangering a child’s life.

My point? The government has a long history of holding the welfare of the child over the religious freedom of the parents. This is nothing new. It’s not the sudden result of gays and lesbians demanding equality.

Which brings us back to this:

Will it harm children to place them with a couple who will openly condemn homosexuality?

Personally, I think we can find evidence that it does. Our opponents may dispute that evidence, and that’s their right. It’s why our system has Congressional hearings and experts testifying in court. But this is the issue under dispute, not whether prospective adoptive parents have the right to treat children any way their religion demands. We already know they do not.*

(By the way, some might claim they’re protecting their child’s ultimate welfare — the salvation of the child’s soul — by condemning homosexuality. But of course the government can neither officially affirm nor deny religious doctrine, so this argument has no place in court).

Oops.

Here’s a funny thing:  Our opponents have already accepted this thinking, whether they realize it or not. Their frequent argument against adoption by gays and lesbians? That it should be about the needs of the child, not the wishes of the adult. Surely, then, this applies not just to the wishes of gay and lesbian adults, but the wishes of homophobic ones, too. Either way, the needs of the child come first.

If you find yourself debating religious freedom with our opponents, remember two principles:

  1. The issue is rarely about gays vs religious freedom. It’s generally something else — in this case, the needs of the child vs. religious freedom. Never be afraid to reframe the debate.
  2. Most of the conflict about “religious freedom” is really about gays wanting the same rules to be applied to everyone. In this case, if the needs of the child trump the wishes of the adults, then that’s just as true for our opponents as it is for us.

Remember those two principles.  We’ll be coming back to them. For now, let’s get back to Robert George.

Robert George’s theocratic mindset

George argues that same-sex marriage will threaten moral and religious freedom. He opens with this dubious assertion:

Because the state’s value-neutrality on this question (of the proper contours and norms of marriage) is impossible if there is to be any marriage law at all, abolishing the conjugal understanding of marriage would imply that committed same-sex and opposite-sex romantic unions are equivalently real marriages. The state would thus be forced to view conjugal-marriage supporters as bigots who make groundless and invidious distinctions.

Is this true?

  • First, is the state’s value-neutrality impossible?
  • And finally, does legalizing marriage equality mean the government is calling its opponents bigots?

No, and no.

Is value-neutrality impossible? I don’t think so. For instance, some religions hold the only path to salvation is through Christ. Yet the government doesn’t merely allow other views to remain legal, it actually supports them.

  • Congress opens each session with a prayer, and that prayer is not always Christian.
  • The military has enlisted chaplains, not all of them Christians, and pays them with taxpayer money.
  • Congress grants special legal status to Christian and non-Christian religions alike, granting them tax-exempt status and other privileges.

But this support for non-Christian religions doesn’t mean the government has devalued Christianity. So why would it be any different if the government allows both same-sex and opposite marriages?

This isn’t just an analogy. The principle seems to be the same:

The government is not taking a position on whether your religion’s view of salvation is correct when it gives equal support to multiple views. The government is not taking a position on whether your religion’s view of marriage is correct when it gives equal support to multiple views.

The position on the left looks value-neutral to me. Why isn’t the one on the right? The view on the left is simply what’s mandated by the First Amendment. Paradoxically, George’s reasoning would seem to imply the First Amendment is actually a threat to moral and religious freedom.

Is that a surprise? This is where George’s theocratic mindset comes into play. In theocracies, if something is sinful then it’s forbidden. Which means if it’s not forbidden, then it’s officially not sinful. In such a mindset, if the government does not enforce your religion, then it must be saying your religion is wrong.

But that’s only for theocracies. Luckily, we don’t live in one.

George continues:

The state would thus be forced to view conjugal-marriage supporters as bigots who make groundless and invidious distinctions.

But the state doesn’t “view” anyone as a bigot, because bigot is not a legal term.

Putting that aside, would marriage equality send the message that opponents are bigots, as George believes? No. Once again: the government hires Jewish chaplains, but the government isn’t calling anyone a bigot for believing Christ is the only path to salvation. In fact, I bet many politicians who hold such religious views are happy to let the military enlist and pay Jewish chaplains, and not just because the Constitution demands neutrality.

George decries the loss of a freedom that did not exist.

George offers up examples of the threat to religious freedom. He doesn’t explore them in depth, and there’s a good reason why. Let’s pick the first one and examine it thoroughly.

Already, we have seen antidiscrimination laws wielded as weapons against those who cannot, in good conscience, accept the revisionist understanding of sexuality and marriage: In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities was forced to give up its adoption services rather than, against its principles, place children with same-sex couples.

George would have us believe this is an unprecedented assault on religious freedom. Catholic Charities didn’t recognize same-sex marriages, and didn’t want to place children with such couples.

But consider this:  The Church requires Catholics to be married by a priest — Catholics married by a justice of the peace or, say, a Baptist minister are not legitimately married in the eyes of the Church. Interestingly, though, it does recognize the marriage of non-Catholic couples married outside the Church.

Despite this, Catholic Charities did not have one policy for Catholics married outside the Church and and a different one for non-Catholics. That would violate discrimination law. Yet Catholic Charities did not choose to shut down over this violation of religious freedom.

Take it further. Maggie Gallagher, who founded the National Organization for Marriage with Robert George (and whom George cites approving in his article) believes “the only way to the Father is through the Son.” This belief is not uncommon in America. Surely it gives Christian adoption agencies a reason to place children only with Christian families — anything else could endanger the child’s soul.

Fortunately, Catholic Charities didn’t use this as an excuse to shut out Jewish parents.  This, too, would have violated discrimination law. Yet Catholic Charities did not choose to shut down over this violation of religious freedom.

Actually, George correctly identifies the issue here — it’s not about same-sex marriage, it’s about discrimination law. There’s an inherent tension between freedom of association and laws forbidding discrimination. This tension has been in place for decades. It predates the marriage equality debate. It would still be there even if same-sex marriage disappeared from the national consciousness.

I don’t mean to dismiss this tension. It’s something our nation has struggled and will continue to struggle with. It’s certainly worthy of debate. But it’s nothing specific to marriage equality. I’m simply left to wonder what George would make of these other cases. Why isn’t he fighting for the right of Catholic Charities to discriminate against Jews? Isn’t such a right implied by his argument?**

Remember the two principles I wrote about above.  They come into play here:

  1. This is not about gays vs. religious freedom. It’s about discrimination law vs. religious freedom.
  2. Gays and lesbians are simply asking that the rules (in this case, discrimination law) be applied to everyone equally. Catholic Charities was okay with the state’s infringement on its religious freedom until gays came into the picture. Which seems to imply it’s not about religious freedom after all.

Does George want us to call him noxious?

George makes a startling admission:

These points are not offered as arguments for accepting the conjugal view of marriage. If our viewpoint is wrong, then the state could be justified in sometimes requiring others to treat same-sex and opposite-sex romantic unions alike, and private citizens could be justified in sometimes marginalizing the opposing view as noxious.

He’s exactly right in that first sentence. If a law is just, we can’t reject it simply to avoid stigmatizing those who oppose justice.

The second sentence is the surprising one. It begins with a caveat, of course:  If our viewpoint is wrong…

That’s a tricky thing. Some propositions are easy to check:  San Francisco is north of Los Angeles? Granite floats in water? The nature of marriage is not one of those easy concepts. Honest disagreement is possible. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to amend George’s statement:

If proponents of marriage equality think our viewpoint is wrong, then they could be justified in sometimes asking the state to require others to treat same-sex and opposite-sex romantic unions alike, and they could be justified in sometimes marginalizing the opposing view as noxious.

I’m sure George would disagree with this. I’m curious about why.

Postscript

Our opponents frequently bring up Catholic Charities as evidence of our threat to religious freedom. They have a few other favorites as well. I dealt with them a couple years ago in this video. It seem appropriate to repost it here.

YouTube Preview Image

Next: George asks why the state should recognize same-sex relationships and really, really pisses me off.


* Personally, I would oppose barring adoptive parents solely based on their view of homosexuality as a sin. Having survived such an upbringing I can’t see it as a threat on same level as denying one’s child a blood transfusion or an insulin injection. But this is an empirical question and it deserves empirical inquiry. I just want our opponents to face the real issue and stop pretending the religious freedom means the right to treat your kids in any and every way your religion demands.

** This isn’t just rhetorical sputter on my part. It’s a real policy issue. A few years ago, the Church of Latter Day Saints’ adoption agency was on probation in Massachusetts because it only wanted to place kids with Mormon families — a violation of state discrimination law.

Comments

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Tara TASW
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Point of clarification: In the Massachusetts case, was Catholic Charities told that it couldn’t operate at all if it discriminated? Or just that it would lose its tax-free status and have to operate without that sweet, sweet taxpayer money?

Tara TASW
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Never mind, the video cleared that up: Catholic Charities could have continued to do adoptions, and discriminated any way they wanted, as long as it was at their own expense instead of the taxpayers.

Ben in Oakland
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

The mormon agency in MA does discirminate, but they don’t take state money.

That”s the issue.

Mark Barnes
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Foster parents receive government assistance-taxpayer dollars. If they espouse discriminatory or hate beliefs (and they should be screened for that), they should be removed from the foster care program. Period.

Rob Tisinai
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Hey Tara, actually the issue with Catholic Charities is not taxpayer funding. The video should be showing a correction screen which says that adoption agencies that discriminate will lose their license to operate — but also that my contact in MA (I spent hours on the phone being shuttled from one government office to another) says this is still an unresolved issue.

That was a couple years ago. If anyone has updated info, I’d be grateful.

Reed Boyer
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

This same Robert George founded NOM with Maggie Gallagher? I did not know that – and am abashed and enlightened by this.

Had I known, I’d have given his “paper” much less examination. Now, about the two other twerps whose names are attached to this . . .

Hunter
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

This section of George’s paper seems to echo the others in its lack of depth — which you so rightly point out — dishonesty, and faulty logic.

And as I recall, Catholic Charities in Boston was not “forced” to close its adoption services. It chose to, rather than run them at its own expense — that is, without taxpayer funding.

So far, George’s arguments ring hollow — more of an apologia for government support of religious bias than any sort of reasoned discussion of real issues.

Good work.

Maurice Lacunza
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

In my opinion the fathers knew that religion was going to be a thorny issue. They attacked the problem from both sides by declaring that no religion shall be able to govern the laws and at the same time, no person shall be restricted from having religion…in their personal lives.

It is really a win-win situation. Religion is given a protected status for the people to freely worship and at the same time allows for the government to act as a civil servant of the people. Further the amendment allows for free speech so that the government can’t muzzle the religions that may prosper within the private lives of Americans. The founders knew exactly what they were doing!

Religion is guaranteed a place in America and it will always thrive BECAUSE of the First Amendment. Therefore America is not going to hell in a hand basket. The fears and rants of radical Christians are unfounded.

CPT_Doom
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

There’s another lie that you didn’t mention Rob:

In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities was forced to give up its adoption services rather than, against its principles, place children with same-sex couples.

That is a flat out lie. Catholic Charities complied with the law for several years before the equal marriage decision by the courts. Adoption by gay and lesbian couples was covered when the Commonwealth’s anti-discrimination law was amended to include gays and lesbians. IIRC, that was about 10 yeares before the equal marriage decision – in fact, it was one of the reasons for the court’s decision – if the Commonwealth allowed gays and lesbians to form families through adoption, why would the Commonwealth deny those families equal protection?

None other than LifeSiteNews, not exactly a progressive publication, reported this back in 2006:

In compliance with the commonwealth’s so-called antidiscrimination laws, the Catholic adoption agency, Catholic Charities of Boston, has already placed children with same-sex couples over the past 20 years…

Catholic Charities of Boston said it has placed 13 of 720 adopted children with same-sex couples in the past 20 years.

http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/2006/feb/06022010

Not a huge number of adoptions, but clearly the secular agency had no problem with treating gay and lesbian couples equally, until Sean O’Malley found out what was going on and demanded they stop.

Darina
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Rob, that correction screen only shows when I watch the video directly on YouTube.

tavdy79
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

@ Rob Tisinai: what you describe sounds like the situation in the UK, where a combination of domestic/”state” law (permitting gay adoptions) and European/”federal” law (banning goods & services discrimination against LGB people) effectively prohibits adoption agencies from discriminating against gay adoptive parents, and Catholic adoption agencies tried to create an exemption on the basis of religion.

Currently the only religious exemptions to UK discrimination legislation relate specifically to the hiring & firing of priests (there are similar exemptions for LGBT orgs, disability orgs, etc.). Had the Catholic adoption agencies been successful, they’d have driven a coach & horses through the UK’s discrimination legislation by allowing any organisation that wished to discriminate against one or other group of employees or customers to do so simply by declaring itself to be “religious”; this was, obviously, at the heart of the recent & ongoing
“Christian B&B” cases.

I don’t ever remember reading anything that mentioned the MA case relating to anything other than the provision of state funding, and I did follow it to a degree because of the similarities and differences between the two cases, and because it was mentioned extensively during a civil union discrimination case in NJ a few years back.

Aeval
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

“Reply to George: XIII. Marriage Equality Threatens Religious Freedom”

My Reply to George: Marriage inequality threatens my freedom from religion.

Jerry
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

The most bizarre claim of the religious crazies is that allowing same sex couples to marry threatens religious liberty. It is so totally false that it seems pointless to have to counter it at all. The first male couple to marry in Iowa when that state opened it’s marriages, was married by the minister of their church. Before the state made the change, both the couple and their minister were denied religious freedom.

I’m so happy that I grew up with the parents I had. When I was a teen and just dipping my toe into religion, I asked him when he and mom had never taught me anything about the church. His reply was that he didn’t believe in teaching things to people until they were old enough to understand.

I have long since returned to my roots as an atheist.

revchicoucc
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

I’m a pastor in CA. One of the arguments used against marriage equality is that it will somehow force clergy who object to it, or whose religious community objects to it, to solemnize same-gender marriages.

In CA and in MN (where I formerly served) statutory law authorizes clergy to solemnize marriages but does not compell them to solemnize any marriage. I can say “no” to any couple asking me to preside at their wedding. Other persons — not clergy — are also authorized, such as judges.

I support marriage equality as does the congregation I serve. Under present CA law, we cannot freely exercise our religious convictions favoring marriage equality.

Marriage in America in the early 21st century is primarily a legal status, not a religious one. I favor a system that requires all couples regardless of religion to have their marriage solemnized by a state authority. If they want to have a blessing from their religious community too, that is their option. Under this system, a state authority could not decline to solemnize a legally eligible marriage.

Clergy should no longer be agents of the state for solemnizing marriages. And to clarify, if paid at all for a wedding, clergy are paid by the couple, not by the government.

cd
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

As incoherent as George’s point appears and is, the reality it alludes to or speaks from is one I recently heard a professor of religion point out on a radio broadcast.

That is: Christianity was a totalist ideology, was the original form of totalitarianism in Europe and then the Americas. Often a softly or inconsistently applied totalitarianism, but one nonetheless.

Charles Taylor admits in ‘A Secular Age’ that the Enlightenment begins with European intellectuals recognizing that Christianity’s totalist system doesn’t work in many ways, probably never did, and is probably unfixable.

Nevertheless, Robert George is now complaining that instituting serious gay rights infringes on his (and other small o orthodox Christians’) implied right to live according to their totalist ideology. For well-meaning totalitarians lacking in due protection by the state, all opposition will be wrongful persecution.

Paul Mc
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

Rob, the UK couple were refused not on the basis of their belief but on the basis that they were deemed not able to provide the necessary support to a young person if they were homosexual. The man said that he would “try to set him right”. That’s enough grounds under UK law where local authority has a duty of care.

The UK case judgement is detailed here.
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2011/375.html

The key precedent quoted is:
“In a free constitution such as ours there is an important distinction to be drawn between the law’s protection of the right to hold and express a belief and the law’s protection of that belief’s substance or content. The [UK] common law and ECHR Article 9 offer vigorous protection of the Christian’s right and every other person’s right to hold and express his or her beliefs, and so they should. By contrast, they do not, and should not, offer any protection whatever of the substance or content of those beliefs on the ground only that they are based on religious precepts. These are twin conditions of a free society.”

Well said.

Amicus
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

“New Traditionalist View” is that one can check gay marriage as objective moral truth, not quite like SF is north of LA, but similar.

Women got the right to vote, and that did not end “religious freedom”. Neither will gay marriage.

Clinging to needlessly exclusive Paleo Traditionalist view has far greater risks to people of faith than adopting New Traditionalist View.

Timothy Kincaid
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

CPT_Doom

Not a huge number of adoptions, but clearly the secular agency had no problem with treating gay and lesbian couples equally, until Sean O’Malley found out what was going on and demanded they stop.

And, if I recall correctly, more than half of the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities in Massachusetts quit in protest.

Timothy Kincaid
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

May I suggest another understanding of what conservative Christians mean by “religious freedom”…

They are not necessarily fearful that they will be denied the ability to pray as they wish or believe as they like. Sure, there is some of that rhetoric, but that is mostly slippery-slope oogie-boogie scare talk.

Rather, to understand what they mean, you have to consider what religion means to them. It goes beyond a practice of faith and takes on identity.

Restrictions on Christians that hinder their ability to live according to their faith in all matters of their life are seen by them in the same way that restrictions which limit gay people from living in accordance with our orientation are seen by us.

So it is of no value to them to say that they can pray in their churches but have to leave religion out of their public lives. That is exactly similar to telling gay people that they can do what they like in the privacy of their bedroom but to “not push it in our faces.”

Second, conservative Christians also see themselves in community. This has a bit of a dual meaning – community of believers as well as greater community of neighbors. They are one with the community of believers and are to be a blessing to their greater community.

In other words, they firmly believe that Biblical principles are not only right but are a blessing to the community. So restrictions on applying the blessings of their principles and values not only is a restriction on their faith but on their lives.

Further, a good many conservative Christians live not only in (church) community but in social communities that agree with their values. So any restrictions on the public practice of their religions beliefs and values are restrictions not only on individuals but on the collective society. It is not only an “attack” on their values but on those of everyone they know. Such changes are a threat to their ability to create a world for themselves and their families.

Of course this is all offset by individual rights of those who do not share the conservative Christians’ views. And also by the values of diversity and non-discrimination.

There truly is conflict in rights, values, and freedoms. A moral code that emphasizes diversity and non-discrimination is as subjective as one that values Biblical principles and social pressures to comply with accepted behavior.

In our efforts to achieve rights and equality, let’s not pretend that they are not losing something, or that their lives will not also change.

Timothy Kincaid
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

It was my impression (and I still am not entirely sure either way) that Catholic Charities could have:

spun off their adoption agency, received no state funds or state placement referral and continued to discriminate

or they could have rejected funds for ALL of their programs and discriminated.

But if I’m wrong, that troubles me. I think that if a young Catholic lady chooses to give her child up for adoption but wishes it to be raised Catholic, or if a black woman wants her child to be raised by a black family, or if a young activist wants her child to be raised around liberal politics, there aught to be some means by which they could do so. And the state aught not prohibit her or those who wish to facilitate her decisions.

I know there is such a thing as “private adoption” (though I don’t know the distinctions) and I wonder if Catholic Charities could have changed to only facilitate private adoptions.

Darina
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

Thank you for this series, Rob. I live in a much more secular culture, and I’m used to dealing with a much more secular kind of homophobia. The way of thinking behind this American religious model is very foreign to me, although I’ve been trying to make sense of it for… somewhere in between two and three years, I guess.
I find your posts very helpful.

I think Timothy does have a point in that comment about the Christian identity and the restricitons of it.
But at least part of the problem is that the Christians of that kind perceive the right to freely express their religion, or live in compliance with their religion if you wish, as an entintlement to try to convert everybody else into it, or at least force everybody else to live according to their religios values. Does this make sense, coming from a non-native speaker of English at a time when she should be in bed? :)

Amicus
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

Tim,

So far as I know, it is an ascriptural belief that, in order to be a “free” or “good” Christian, you must have command of the civil law in order to create like-minded “community”.

Christ himself lived when “Christianity” was nonexistant. St. Paul wrote letters to Christian communities that did not control the levels of political power. In fact, I think he told them not to seek them, even.

So …

Last, adoptive services are still fee-for-service. One might not want to call it “commerce” for obvious reasons, but it is. There is no room for religious exemption in such things.

Amicus
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

“levels” = “levers”

Amicus
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

oh, I’ll just add, it is entirely possible, in my view, to believe what I wrote and still vote for “religious exemptions” for adoptive agencies, as a practical matter.

I mean, it’s fairly plain they are just kicking up sand with this. So, if it’s not a big operative deal …

The “religious freedom” meme goes back at least 30 years and didn’t originate with Frank Schubert, say.

Erin
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Just want to say thanks, Rob. This series is fun to read. It is fun to pick apart their arguments, especially when one of them claims to have a scholarly argument. It is a nice change of pace from the regular news stories. I also love and will forever link Timothy’s “The Conservative Christians with a Heart for the Homosexual Still Don’t Get it” piece.

Priya Lynn
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

The Mormon adoption agency still operates in Massachusetts and discriminates so it is not true that the Catholic adoption agency was forced to close. They did so voluntarily because they couldn’t discriminate and suck on the government teet at the same time.

Regan DuCasse
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Tim, I’m sure that one’s Christian identity is a strong one, and that their perception of change in their lives if gay people are accorded equal status is a strong one too.

However, we can all see that this perception is SELECTIVE on what other things infringe on their actual freedoms, rights and protections.

Gay people, in public, are not committing anything more egregious to Christians than others do every day. There are legal and common things done in each of our lives, that will offend someone’s religious beliefs or even identity and whatever their interpretation of it is.

To be a Christian in an essentially polyglot or secular country, ensures that these instances coexist and any offense taking is in the eye of the beholder, and STILL no reason to expect ENFORCEMENT of that identity in public.

I can name all manner of how our diversity of living offends SOMEONE, but the one with the religious PERCEPTION of that offense, has TWO options.
Handle it, or avoid it.
Gay people existed long before ANY religions did, and have weathered all manner of religion’s evolution in dealing with what doesn’t meet their narrow expectations of the role of gender.

Gay people have ALWAYS been gay people. They are not the ones who have changed, nor are the ones who created the social problem that requires offense at their existence.
And gay people are not and have not, instituted WHOLE societies into BEING gay.
But to respect their existence and accord them what everyone else is accorded.

What we are all witnessing is that so called Christians, will not inconvenience THEMSELVES, nor make other things that offend or conflict with their identity a public policy.
There are all kinds of other people who don’t meet their religious standards, but they aren’t including them in discriminatory policies and we all know why.

This is why playing the religion card is very cowardly and hypocritical, because with each opportunity to REALLY show the depth of their identity or faith, they expect OTHERS to be sacrificed, and receive no equal respect from the government, which they aren’t willing to suffer themselves.

As Rob pointed out, human sacrifice isn’t an option for one’s religion. Some religious beliefs reject their members to receive blood donation, or autopsy be performed. But they don’t petition the government that OTHERS not receive such donation or autopsies be performed, nor do they call it a compromise to their religious freedom, identity or beliefs that these happen.

Why not call out these sorts of Christians on their selective, conflicting, hypocritical BS?
Because that is what it is. And they are doing Christian identity or beliefs no good service for doing so.

Lymis
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Jerry:

The first male couple to marry in Iowa when that state opened it’s marriages, was married by the minister of their church. Before the state made the change, both the couple and their minister were denied religious freedom.

Actually, while I agree with you in principle, it isn’t so true legally, and the reason you’re wrong is also support for why the anti-gay marriage people are wrong.

Look up the Canadian supreme court decision that allowed marriage across Canada (I know that’s not the right name for them, but I don’t have the reference handy.)

In that decision, they dealt with a claim by some couples that their religious freedom was compromised by not being able to have their minister perform a binding civil marriage.

The Court correctly shot that down – the restriction that denied civil recognition did not in any way prevent the couple and their church from performing a ceremony that held theological meaning. In short, the government wasn’t interfering with their religious rights, just their civil ones.

Of course, they then said that those civil rights were being denied and mandated the extension of civil marriage.

They said it better than I did.

But the corollary is true. Allowing civil marriage doesn’t force any religion to bless the union or consider it theologically valid. The fact that a divorced Catholic can civilly remarry doesn’t force the Catholic Church to theologically recognize either the divorce or the new marriage – but it also doesn’t mean that the Church can unilaterally send half an employee’s wages to his ex or deny insurance to his second spouse.

The same should apply to same sex marriage.

Timothy Kincaid
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Darina,

You are far more articulate in English than a good many native English speakers.

Amicus,

It is correct that there is no scriptural command to create a Christ-based community. But while there are a few who speak of a Christian Nation and who want a Bible-Based Society, that isn’t really where most are coming from.

I think it more informative to think of their goals as being the same as ours: creating a culture in which our values are respected, in which that which we think is important is given priority, in which injustice is righted and that which is good wins over that which is evil.

They, of course, define many of the terms differently.

Timothy Kincaid
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Regan,

Yes, there is a distinct difference in the way that each of us imposes on the other. Their view of an ideal community is one in which we simply have no place.

But we are wiser better people when we can understand our enemies rather than just characterize them.

Timothy Kincaid
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Lymis,

With all due deference to the Canadian Courts, neither their constitution nor the circumstances are identical.

While it is true that anti-gay marriage laws do not bar ceremonies with theological meaning, it would be forbidden under the US Constitution to give legal sanction to the sacraments of one faith and deny them to another based on theology.

For example, a state could come up with plenty of social reasons to ban divorce or to refuse to recognize the remarriage of a divorced person. But the words of Jesus or the doctrines of the Catholic Church cannot be their basis.

If a state (or its electorate) ban the legal recognition of same-sex marriages conducted at the Unitarian church because Catholics and Baptists wish to have their theology encoded, then it is the establishment of religion. And the victim is not only the couple but also the Unitarian church.

It is one of the arguments in Perry that anti-marriage bans were and are based in religious teaching and activism.

Amicus
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Tim,

The reason I replied above has a bit less to do with this George piece than it does with his work on the Manhattan Declaration.

Reframe the discussion this way: under what circumstances does an individual have a Christian duty to withdraw support from the government? Does ‘obscuring the moral truth of marriage’ really qualify?

The only thing that I can come up with for a obviously solid answer is when the government is preventing you from being a Christian, that the law has failed to preserve the ability to confess faith and form community of the faithful (some will add proclaim, but that is highly debatable).

Now, hells bells, but gay marriage is not preventing that. Therefore, I find NNL + Manhanttan Declaration as deep seated Christian hypocrisy at the best and repudiation (for the purpose of political power, “throwing your weight around”?) of Christian tenants at worst. Isn’t similar reasoning what was used to squash South American “liberation theology”, when the shoe was on the other foot?

I think that some of them are deliberately trying to put gay marriage on a list of items, like school prayer. But, it doesn’t belong with school prayer and they know it. In 2011, except to the hopelessly bigoted and ill informed, gay people are not “non believers” or reprobates.

Therefore, their clear attempt to draw the line of community at “gay” is a nonstarter. They are killing their own gay kids, for pity’s sake! It’s not an us-them.

I’m not sure the language of “values” helps to clarify. It just brings good motivations and bad, on both sides, under the same name so it is harder to see or spot any untoward beliefs.

Timothy Kincaid
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Ah, yes, the Manhattan Declaration folk are definitely among those “few who speak of a Christian Nation and who want a Bible-Based Society.” But I wasn’t really thinking of them (or even Robert George) when I wrote the above.

My comments speak more about the auto-mechanic in mid-America who thinks that soon he will be unable to run his shop according to his Christian beliefs. Or the florist who earns most of her income doing wedding arrangements and will now be asked to do gay weddings. Or the couple who own a duplex and rent out the other half who have always tried to made sure that when their grandkids visit that they aren’t exposed to unbelievers or other bad influences.

It doesn’t reflect favorably on us to just say that these people are wrong (though they may be) and so we don’t care what they feel. That we determine their values, motivations, and beliefs to be bad or untoward does not mean that they are experience their losses in any less real of a way.

Their hesitation to employ, cater to, or live with gay people is as real as we might feel if we were told that we would have to employ, cater to, or live with anti-gay activists. It feels to them as though they are losing something real.

We must, in our fight for equality, keep in mind that some who state their objections are not doing so out of hate or as a talking-point. Some truly are experiencing a sense of loss.

Donny D.
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy Kincaid wrote:

May I suggest another understanding of what conservative Christians mean by “religious freedom”…

They are not necessarily fearful that they will be denied the ability to pray as they wish or believe as they like. Sure, there is some of that rhetoric, but that is mostly slippery-slope oogie-boogie scare talk.

Yes, this is stuff that their focus group researchers have told them will scare people into supporting them and donating. But it isn’t the real fear.

Rather, to understand what they mean, you have to consider what religion means to them. It goes beyond a practice of faith and takes on identity.

Restrictions on Christians that hinder their ability to live according to their faith in all matters of their life are seen by them in the same way that restrictions which limit gay people from living in accordance with our orientation are seen by us.

So it is of no value to them to say that they can pray in their churches but have to leave religion out of their public lives. That is exactly similar to telling gay people that they can do what they like in the privacy of their bedroom but to “not push it in our faces.”

Second, conservative Christians also see themselves in community. This has a bit of a dual meaning – community of believers as well as greater community of neighbors. They are one with the community of believers and are to be a blessing to their greater community.

In other words, they firmly believe that Biblical principles are not only right but are a blessing to the community. So restrictions on applying the blessings of their principles and values not only is a restriction on their faith but on their lives.

Exactly! They believe they as religious people have a right to deny us rights or take away ones we have if that is what they believe their religion tells them. They may believe that they are supposed to take away certain specified ones, or they may believe they are required by their religion to take away whatever right they personally, without religious guidance, feel we shouldn’t have. They have a right to have us not be able to legally marry, among other things.

Further, a good many conservative Christians live not only in (church) community but in social communities that agree with their values. So any restrictions on the public practice of their religions beliefs and values are restrictions not only on individuals but on the collective society. It is not only an “attack” on their values but on those of everyone they know. Such changes are a threat to their ability to create a world for themselves and their families.

Part of their idea of religious freedom is also that they should be free of us. They should have to look at and think about us as little as possible, and maybe not at all. They have a right to not have their children see a pair of women getting rice thrown at them on church steps, or a pair of men kissing in public. They have a right to use the preciously innocent eyes and ears of their kids as an excuse to not have to see or hear certain things themselves.

Of course this is all offset by individual rights of those who do not share the conservative Christians’ views. And also by the values of diversity and non-discrimination.

There truly is conflict in rights, values, and freedoms. A moral code that emphasizes diversity and non-discrimination is as subjective as one that values Biblical principles and social pressures to comply with accepted behavior.

Here is where I can’t agree. This seems like a kind of relativist stance, where the most egalitarian views can be seen as being on par with those of a person who thinks s/he has a “right” to enslave or commit genocide.

In our efforts to achieve rights and equality, let’s not pretend that they are not losing something, or that their lives will not also change.

I think in a real sense they would lose freedom of religious speech, if not in a legal sense. The more public opinion is against them, the harder it is to speak out in an anti-LGBT manner, and the harder it is for them to advocate anti-LGBT things. It’s hard to fight ridicule or majority hostility. But this isn’t an argument they can honestly make, for one because there is no direct cause and effect between a change in marriage law and a resulting change in public opinion, but for another that’s just too bad, because ridicule and non-criminal hostility are also forms of free speech and expression, and for another, they aren’t actual censorship, and don’t actually PREVENT anti-LGBT speech and expression.

Andrew
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Just wanted to say — I’m always free with criticisms when I think articles or commentaries on this site hit a wrong note or overstep boundaries.

I wanted in that light to note how much respect I’ve had for this series — it takes a serious, contemplative look at tough issues, and breaks them down in a way that help us navigate through the semantic games and nonsense arguments employed by anti-gay activists. They’ve clearly required a good deal of work and, I’m guessing, a lot of editing to get it right.

In short: well done. And that comes from someone who doesn’t complement easily :)

Keep it up !!

Mihangel apYrs
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Donny D (et al)

The Christians would lose the right to live in a community free from overt EVIL and SIN, and would lose the right to impose their view point by agressive proselytising (a tenet of the faith of some of them).

Ultimately our existance is a challenge to them, and our existance does affect and diminish the lives of some. They wouldn’t admit to wanting us dead, but it would be easier for them if we were.

Our “sin” is the most egregious, since we’re no longer ashamed of being gay, and want rights, unlike other sinners who are either criminal or despised (though not divorced people as seen by the adulation of Gingrich by the holier-than-thous!)

Amicus
April 6th, 2011 | LINK

It feels to them as though they are losing something real.

It’s on these feelings of anxiety that the religious right the world over prey, no, not just in Christianity?

Dealing with them, as far as gay advocacy is obviously very difficult.

Part of it is instruction, of showing how badly they have been misled, stirred up in the wrong kind of ways (indulging fears and indulging prejudices) by people who want political power.

The most effective way, perhaps, to reaching out to them is to challenge them with the true “narrative” (although I hate that term), one that is more reflective and discerning.

I think we could agree that the all-too-standard “left-liberal” response of simply laughing at them because they are “stoopid” is counter productive. It only raises their hackles, and even, sometimes, a regional sense of “no one is gonna tell us how to do it down here!”, which are the ancillary emotions that the false purveyors on the religious right know how to tap into in spades.

Hunter
April 6th, 2011 | LINK

“I think that if a young Catholic lady chooses to give her child up for adoption but wishes it to be raised Catholic, or if a black woman wants her child to be raised by a black family, or if a young activist wants her child to be raised around liberal politics, there aught to be some means by which they could do so. And the state aught not prohibit her or those who wish to facilitate her decisions.”

I’m afraid I have a very different attitude here: if a woman is giving up a child for adoption, she is giving up the child — she has no more authority or control over the course of the child’s life from then on. That’s part of what she’s giving up. It sounds harsh, perhaps, so say that her wishes don’t count, but I can’t think why they should.

In an earlier time, and still among many other societies, it’s assumed that, for example, an orphaned child will be taken in and raised by family — uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, older siblings. We’ve lost that here, somehow (and I don’t pretend to be able to point to causes), but that would obviate your point.

Hunter
April 6th, 2011 | LINK

“Their hesitation to employ, cater to, or live with gay people is as real as we might feel if we were told that we would have to employ, cater to, or live with anti-gay activists. It feels to them as though they are losing something real.

We must, in our fight for equality, keep in mind that some who state their objections are not doing so out of hate or as a talking-point. Some truly are experiencing a sense of loss.”

One of the necessary elements of a society such as ours — racially and ethnically diverse, polyglot in many respects, and home to a number of religious traditions — is that we must all compromise. To say that we must understand those who don’t wish to compromise slides past the point: yes, we can understand them, but they have to make accommodation to the rest of us, just as we do to them. For them to say that their right to observance of their religion supersedes anyone else’s rights of any kind is, I think, unacceptable.

It’s sad if they consider that they have lost an essential part of their identity, but that’s the price we pay for being Americans.

F Young
April 7th, 2011 | LINK

@Timothy Kincaid:
“We must, in our fight for equality, keep in mind that some who state their objections are not doing so out of hate or as a talking-point. Some truly are experiencing a sense of loss.”

It is the loss of a privilege, not a right, the privilege of discriminating, of forcing other people to follow their religion, of enforcing their religion through law, taxes and schools, of having their doctrines mirrored everywhere.

For centuries, they usurped our rights, but finally we are fighting back. They are no more worthy of pity or sympathy than slave-owners who lost their slaves.

They need to get over it, get used to the idea that they will be only equal now, and count themselves lucky that we won’t treat them as badly as they are treating us.

I have no sympathy for their loss of privilege. However, if it helps them move along, we can point out that reinforcing the separation the church and state (and business) will increase religious freedom for all. They will be able to truly choose their religion instead of having to follow a single religious practice imposed by law regardless of a person’s nominal religious choice.

Conversely, if the separation of church and state were to continue to weaken like the right wing wants it to, it is only a question of time before divorce follows abortion on the list of rights that are lost by all. Jesus never said anything about same-sex marriage, but he was very clear about divorce.

F Young

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