UPDATE: I don’t normally put updates at the top of a post, but you would do well to read George Weigel‘s piece at National Review Online before proceeding here or reading any of the columns I linked to and commented on. He does an excellent job of explaining the “totalitarian impulse” of the gay marriage movement that makes some of the stuff below that much more understandable.
By now, you’ve probably heard that New York has become the sixth state to allow same sex couples to marry. The bill passed by the state Senate on Friday night (you’ve got to wonder what the big emergency was that they had to vote on this after nightfall, with Governor Andrew Cuomo signing the bill near midnight) contained certain protections for religious dissenters from liberal secular orthodoxy. (You can find the specific provisions in all their glorious legalese here.)
Even before New York joined the ranks of those seeking to redefine marriage, certain denizens of the “On Faith” column weighed in on the matter of those religious protections, and they were not happy. First, here’s the question they were asked to address:
A bill legalizing same-sex marriage for couples in New York State is at a standstill over the issue of exemptions for religious organizations and individuals. The reach of these religious protections is wide-ranging -from whether Catholic adoption agencies may reject same-sex couples, to the right of religious caterers to refuse services for gay weddings. In New York State’s Marriage Equality Act, should there be exemptions for religion? What should happen when equal rights for gay citizens and the right to religious free exercise clash?
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite wrote in a column charmingly entitled, “In gay marriage debates, don’t cater to bigots”:
A religious exemption for caterers? Really? Doesn’t this expose the fundamental contradiction between “religious exemptions” and equal civil rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people? If you include catering, a completely contractual and voluntary arrangement to provide food services, in a “religious exemption” clause, you are just catering to bigotry instead.
The situation in New York risks becoming an example of “over-accommodation.” The “Free Exercise Clause” of the U.S. Constitution usually means protections against infringements against individuals’ beliefs and practices that are “fundamental,” “ultimate,” and that have “formal and external signs like clergy and the observance of holidays.” New York’s current laws are already sufficient to protect serious questions of religious conscience in the fundamental issue, namely whether a faith group would be required to perform a same-sex wedding. They won’t.
True, they won’t. Unfortunately, the rest of the paragraph is a set-up for the contention that there are lots of religious people and organizations that shouldn’t be protected from the state dictating to them about how their convictions play out in real life. Remember the New Mexico photographers who were fine $6000 by the state Human Rights Commission for refusing to take pictures at a lesbian “commitment ceremony”? That’s exactly where Thistlethwaite is headed with this.
Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State writes:
Here’s a good rule of thumb: What exemptions do we allow religious groups when it comes to mixed-faith or interracial couples? A church has the legal right to refuse to perform marriages for such couples, but a government agency could not deny them access to adoption services just because a religious group doesn’t like it, and a business could not refuse to serve them.
Thus are racism, and moral qualms over the moral validity of homosexuality, equated. If you believe that homosexuality is wrong, and refuse to do something that facilitates it, you are the equivalent of a racist. So there.
Lynn and Thistlethwaite share the belief that if government money is involved in any way, shape or form, it means the government gets to dictate the rules under which an entity operates. As the latter says, “Caesar’s money, Caesar’s rules.” To which I respond, fine. If Caesar wants to play that way (and there is no necessity that Caesar do so, except under a strict separationist view of the First Amendment that sees the state as having primacy over religion anywhere that it chooses to be involved), then religious people should take their marbles and go home. All religious organizations should henceforth refuse to perform any public service of any kind in cooperation with any level of government. They should not help government serve the poor, allow their facilities to be used for voting, offer any adoption service, etc. Nothing. Everything religious organizations are called to do can be done apart from the state, and should be, starting tomorrow.
Thing is, of course, that those New Mexico photographers don’t get any state money. They are private contractors, and until recently would have had the right to refuse to engage in activities that they consider to be immoral. Now, however, their convictions are considered to be no better than racism, and the state justified in forcing them to do what they (and virtually all of their co-religionists through the centuries, and the vast majority of Americans until very recently, in case anyone thinks their beliefs idiosyncratic) believe is wrong, under the threat of losing their livelihood.
Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute writes:
The United States is one of the most diverse religious countries in the world. No single religious voice can speak for all traditions on issues of sexuality and marriage, nor should government take sides on religious differences. Indeed, clergy from many religious traditions already perform marriages and unions for same-sex couples.
This is a red herring, and always has been in the debate over how the law should treat gays. The definition of marriage is not primarily based on religion, and certainly no “single religious voice” is trying to speak for every other religious viewpoint. The definition of marriage is and always has been rooted primarily in a view of natural law that sees marriage as being first and foremost and the bearing and rearing of children (please note the connection between those two functions). The fact that modern technology has overridden biological reality in the matter of conception (the morality of which is now simply assumed rather than argued by wide swaths of Western society) does not change the basis of marriage in natural law that is rooted in biology rather than human will. In other words, the fact that marriage has until 2004 always and everywhere in the United States been defined as a union of one man and one woman is not primarily because Christianity has dictated it, but because reality dictated it. The fact that some clergy are already solemnizing same sex marriages doesn’t change that reality, any more than our ability to bring unlimited pornography into any home with an Internet connection means we should encourage people to take advantage of it.
Atheist Episcopal Bishop John Spong writes:
Organized religion has for a long time been the traditional harbor in which prejudices abide. On the basis of “our faith” religious institutions have sought to protect themselves from the legitimate concerns of people of color, women, left-handed people and now homosexual people. The fact is that these religious groups actually oppose all gay-friendly initiatives, but having lost that fight now use various smoke screens to keep their prejudices intact. Religious leaders have actually condemned secular movements to end discrimination against women and homosexuals, apparently unaware that secularism has a better anti-prejudice reputation than religion does.
What happened to the Jesus who embraced the leper, allowed the touch of the woman with the chronic menstrual discharge, stood between the woman taken in the act of adultery and her accusers and healed the Samaritan? When will we as a society stop compromising justice to protect the sensitivities of people, who are profoundly ignorant about the meaning and reality of homosexuality?
This is up to Spong’s usual standards. Suffice it to say that he missed his true calling–he would have made a terrific Soviet commissar.
United Church of Christ pastor Susan Smith writes:
Churches want to be able to maintain their autonomy and not risk losing their 501c3 standing should they choose not to perform gay marriages, one pastor told me. What churches don’t want is the risk of being sued on the grounds of discrimination if they don’t want to perform a gay marriage.
This pastor paused, then said, “Thing is, nobody tells us who we can and can’t marry now. This is political in the worst sense.”
Let’s put the emphasis on the word now. You’ve got to wonder if Smith’s interlocutor has any idea about the trajectory of the gay rights agenda in the West and its propensity to run over the rights of religious believers. Certainly the state doesn’t tell us who we can and can’t marry now, but the nature of anti-discrimination law is that it tends to limit the freedom of action of individuals and private organizations more and more over time. Concern over the power of the state to force churches to do what is contrary to their moral convictions is hardly “political,” but rather a realistic response to a state that is increasingly hostile to the concerns of traditional religious believers. (See photographers, New Mexico.)
That is true. If gay marriage is legal in the state, and a particular church does not believe in gay marriage, I am sure that there are ways that any such church can get around doing gay marriages without saying forthright why they refuse to marry any couple. The same is true of adoption agencies, caterers … Businesses have found ways of getting around being overtly discriminatory ever since laws appeared on the books prohibiting the same.
So, instead of being protected by the law in conformity to the First Amendment, churches should find ways to “get around doing gay marriages without saying forthright [sic] why they refuse to marry any couple.” They should dissemble, they should evade, they should most importantly keep to themselves their moral and theological convictions, lest the state come down on them for violating the new commandment: “Thou shalt give thine imprimatur to all deviant sexual behavior.” So much for clergy ethics.
PCUSA pastor Janet Edwards is having a hard time containing her ecstasy:
Exactly six years ago Saturday, June 25, I had the great honor to preside at the wedding of two women, Nancy and Brenda. For me the only way to describe it is that I experienced Pentecost — the Holy Spirit palpably fell upon us that day.
Gay marriage and the coming of the Holy Spirit: yeah, I can see why she would equate those two things.
When I was asked by Nancy and Brenda to preside at their wedding, the decision to do so was my choice. Clergy have always had and will continue to have the right to decline a request to preside at any wedding, for any reason. The separation between church and state allows for protections of religious conscience like this.
The fear that religious protections are being infringed upon has no basis. So what a shame that these fears of imagined requirements are holding up passage of this state action!
Thank you for your assurance, Justice Edwards. I sure do feel better now knowing that any worries about an overweening state have “no basis.” Because, you know, the state would never, ever try to tell the church what it can and cannot, should or should not do.
I see it is a shame because those who are speaking out of fear are missing such a powerful moment of the moving of the Holy Spirit. They could be one with the rushing widening of human experience and awareness but they fight this flow rather than join in it.
I know that the definition of “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” is disputed, but one definition is that it consists of attributing the work of Satan to the Holy Spirit. And that’s all I’ll say about that.